“Grand” event showcasing AHL stars

AHL Weekly Release #17

As another bumper crop of American Hockey League All-Stars descends on Grand Rapids later this week, they follow in the skate marks of those great AHL players that first gathered to showcase their skills 62 years ago.

The 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic, set for this coming Sunday and Monday at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena, will be the 10th installment of the league’s modern All-Star event, but the first AHL All-Star Game was held on Feb. 3, 1942, under the support of league president Maurice Podoloff. The game, held at the old Arena on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, was a fundraiser for U.S. and Canadian efforts in World War II and featured some of the most notable names in league history, including Les Cunningham and Eddie Shore, two men whose names now grace AHL awards honoring the league’s MVP and outstanding defenseman, respectively.

The AHL All-Star Game was brought back in 1954, and for the next six years the defending Calder Cup champions would be pitted against a team of league all-stars. Dunc Fisher and Fred Glover played in all six of these contests, while Willie Marshall, Harry Pidhirny, Steve Kraftcheck and Frank Mathers skated in five apiece. Other AHL All-Stars in the 1950’s included future Hall of Famers Johnny Bower, Emile Francis, Brian Kilrea, Harry Lumley, Pierre Pilote and Gump Worsley.

Following the All-Star Game in December 1959, the event was not held again until current league president David Andrews revived it 35 years later. In Providence on Jan. 17, 1995, a team of All-Stars from the AHL’s six Canadian teams faced off against All-Stars from the league’s 11 U.S.-based clubs, in a game that featured such current NHL’ers as Cory Stillman, Valeri Bure, Joel Bouchard, Scott Walker, Steve Sullivan, Philippe Boucher, Martin Lapointe, Mattias Norstrom, Steve Poapst, Corey Schwab and Dwayne Roloson, as well as all-time AHL greats Jody Gage and Tim Tookey.

The annual Skills Competition was added in 1996, and the format was changed in 1997 to the current set-up pitting Canadian-born players against those born outside Canada. Over the past decade, sold-out arenas and international TV audiences have witnessed the AHL’s best face off on one of the sport’s grandest stages; this year’s showcase in Grand Rapids continues the tradition.

ALL-STAR OFFICIALS NAMED … The AHL has announced the on-ice officials for next Monday’s 2004 All-Star Game in Grand Rapids. Fifth-year official Dan O’Rourke, who worked the Calder Cup 2003 Finals, will serve as the game’s referee. Jay Jacobs (22nd pro season) and Jim Garofalo (17th pro season) will work as linesmen; both have been officiating in the AHL since 2001.

STARS ALIGN IN CYBERSPACE … In addition to reaching more than 100 million households across the United States and Canada on a network of 21 regional television partners, action from the 2004 AHL All-Star Game can be followed anywhere in the world on the official Web site of the AHL, theahl.com.

Hamilton Bulldogs play-by-play voice Derek Wills will provide the call of the game on a worldwide cybercast, with coverage beginning Monday night at 6:40 p.m. ET. Fans can also view real-time game statistics on theahl.com’s live scoreboard, powered by Pointstreak.

DUCKY ATTITUDE … Cincinnati Mighty Ducks winger Dan Bylsma, a 12th-year pro whose resume includes trips to the Calder Cup Finals (1994) and Stanley Cup Finals (2003), is also the co-founder (with his dad, Jay) of a program which promotes playing the game of ice hockey for fun, developing every player’s athleticism and understanding of the game, and using the game to teach life lessons.

IT PAYS (I Teach Positive Attitudes in Youth Sports) has been adopted by youth hockey associations across North America to provide a wholesome environment for young players. The Bylsmas also co-authored the books, “So You Want to Play in the NHL” and “So Your Son Wants to Play in the NHL.”

OFF THE ICE … Ohio rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati are competing for the Labatt Blue Cup, to be awarded to the team that wins the eight-game regular season series between the clubs… Friday night will be Everyone’s a Kid Night at Norfolk’s Scope, with all tickets for the Admirals’ game against San Antonio set at the kids’ price of $8… The Portland Jr. Pirates have announced they will join the Eastern Minor Junior Hockey League in 2004-05, joining under-18 development teams such as the New England Jr. Coyotes, the Lowell Jr. Lock Monsters and the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.

ETC. … Former Maple Leaf Brad Boyes (two goals) and Newfoundland native Ryane Clowe (goal) led Cleveland to a 4-1 win in St. John’s on Friday night… Pascal Leclaire made 52 saves, including 11 in the five-minute overtime, during Syracuse’s 2-2 tie with Toronto on Thursday… Stanislav Chistov, the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, picked up a goal and an assist in his AHL debut with Cincinnati on Saturday… John Slaney’s overtime goal gave Philadelphia a 4-3 win over Milwaukee in front of an AHL season-high crowd of 15,603 fans at the Wachovia Center on Saturday afternoon; it was Slaney’s 123rd career AHL goal, one shy of Jim Wiemer’s league record for defensemen… On Tuesday, Brad Moran became the third AHL graduate (Josh Langfeld, Chad Wiseman) in two weeks to score his first NHL goal of future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur… Binghamton rookie Greg Watson has recorded five points this season: two goals and two assists on Oct. 18 vs. Worcester, and one assist 35 games later, at Albany on Jan. 30… Utah ended Grand Rapids’ 11-game unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win on Friday night… Houston’s 5-2 win in Manitoba on Friday came while temperatures outside reached minus-35 degrees Fahrenheit, some 80 degrees cooler than back home in Texas… Providence Bruins alumni Glen Murray and Andrew Raycroft have been named the NHL’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week.