📝 by Anthony Fusco | AHL On The Beat
After two postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Hockey League was finally able to hold its annual AHL All-Star Classic last week in Laval, Que.
The event is a chance for the league to come together, showcase an incredible amount of talent and honor those who left a lasting impact on the game. For the Manitoba Moose organization, the importance of the event couldn’t be overstated.
The Moose had much to celebrate over the weekend. The two days included watching defenseman Declan Chisholm, the team’s All-Star selection, proudly represent both himself and the organization with a dazzling display on the ice.
Additionally, a pair of former Moose skaters were honored off the ice. Current assistant coach and former defenseman Nolan Baumgartner was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame, while former Moose captain Mike Keane was selected to serve as one of two honorary captains for the weekend’s festivities.
“I think it was just a great experience, and to represent Manitoba is such an honor,” said Chisholm following the All-Star Challenge. “It’s definitely something I’m going to remember forever. I had a blast and lots of fun out there.”
Chisholm, a fifth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2018, participated in his first AHL All-Star Classic after registering 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 42 games prior to the break. The 31 points already represented a new career high for the defenseman, who currently sits second on the Moose in scoring.
Following the Skills Competition and All-Star Challenge, Chisholm gained a newfound respect for his fellow AHL skaters.
“It was a good taste. All those guys are so good,” noted the Bowmanville, Ont., product. “The skill and speed out there are next-level. It was just fun to be out there with everyone, make plays and have a relaxed game of three-on-three with no pressure.”
Chisholm was also quick to heap praise on his Moose teammates and attribute his success this season to them.
“I think my confidence just keeps on growing throughout my experiences in the AHL. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my teammates,” expressed Chisholm. “I’m setting up guys, so a lot of guys are putting the puck in the net. Or guys are moving the puck and creating space. A lot of my development has been their part too. They’re pushing my pace in practice and skills. I’m just thankful for those guys and will be looking to continue to grow my confidence that way.”
As Chisholm continues his development path, he doesn’t need to look much further than down the Moose bench for inspiration and mentorship. One of his coaches was one of the best defensemen to ever suit up for the organization.
Nolan Baumgartner played for six different teams during his AHL career, highlighted by parts of seven seasons with the Moose. The Calgary, Alta., native’s career included 878 AHL games, sixth all-time among the league’s defenders, and he racked up 390 points, ranking 13th all-time among AHL defensemen.
Not bad for the former Washington Capitals 10th overall pick who arrived in the AHL in 1996, not knowing where his hockey journey would go.
“It brought me a 16-year pro hockey career and 878 games in the American League,” said Baumgartner during his induction speech. “I’ll tell you here today that I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. The lessons, the knowledge, and the life experiences that I gained are a big part of who I am today as a person. Playing in the AHL taught me perseverance, humility and leadership on and off the ice.”
Baumgartner also had a few special words for Mike Keane, his Moose teammate from 2007 to 2010. Keane spent five years as captain of the Moose and his number 12 now hangs in the rafters of Canada Life Centre.
“To Mike Keane and family: Your mentorship, and more importantly, your friendship has meant the world for me and my family. Thank you for always being a great teammate, friend and for always being there for us. We love you guys.”
Craig Heisinger, who has served as Manitoba’s general manager since 2002, noted during a video tribute that Baumgartner was “the epitome of what it takes to be a Manitoba Moose player.”
Baumgartner turned the spotlight back on his GM later in his speech, thanking Heisinger for “having my back.”
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play for the Manitoba Moose,” Baumgartner said, “and now coach for the organization and to be able to pass on the knowledge and experience that I’ve learned from playing.”
Baumgartner’s impact was also acknowledged by the Moose in 2020 when he was one of two defenders included in Manitoba’s 20th Season All-Time Team.
“Everything I have in my life now, I not only owe to the game of hockey, but also to the American Hockey League,” Baumgartner said in closing. “And I will be forever grateful.”
Chisholm, who was in attendance for Baumgartner’s speech, was extremely happy for his coach.
“To see that was pretty cool,” Chisholm observed. “He’s such a great coach, such a personable guy. I’m so happy for him and his family. He almost had me crying on stage watching him. It was really cool.”
Chisholm and Baumgartner are back to the Moose and hope to use their experiences in Laval to continue propelling the squad toward a berth in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs.