Reign alumni reflect on past All-Star fun

JustSports Photography/AHL

by Zach Dooley | AHL On The Beat

The annual AHL All-Star Classic heads to California for the first time in its storied history next weekend, as the AHL’s best and brightest take the ice in Ontario for the midseason spectacle.

The 2020 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Ontario International Airport will feature some of the AHL’s finest to ever play in the league, players with storied NHL careers already to their name and players with promising NHL futures to come.

The latter category changes on a yearly basis, and two current Los Angeles Kings, Jack Campbell and Sean Walker, were a part of that group of players recently.

Campbell represented the Ontario Reign at the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic and has since graduated to the Kings. Campbell ranked third in the NHL in save percentage last season among goaltenders with at least 30 games played, and earned a contract extension this past offseason.

Before he backstopped the Kings at Staples Center, however, Campbell manned the crease for the Reign, and the AHL’s Pacific Division.

“It was cool,” Campbell said of his All-Star selection. [It was my] first year with the new organization, had a great group of guys as my teammates here and obviously Dusty [Imoo] and Stutts [Mike Stothers] as my coaches. I think the best part of that All-Star experience was getting the call from Stutts, telling me I made it. It was just really special, because you could feel how much Stutts cares and that was really cool. Big moment for sure.”

Walker, now in his first full NHL season with the Kings, was selected to represent the Reign at the event just a season ago. Walker totaled 17 points and a plus-5 rating in 22 AHL games prior to the All-Star break and never looked back as he went on to establish himself as a regular on the Los Angeles blue line. Walker currently ranks second on the Kings among defensemen with 19 points this season, trailing only former Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty.

“It was great, it was done very well, I had a great time,” Walker said of his All-Star experience in Springfield. “It was a chance to meet lots of people that you probably never would have talked to off the ice, so that was good.”

Both Walker and Campbell had the chance to experience the event with a teammate, as both were a part of a contingent of Ontario representatives. Walker was joined by forward Sheldon Rempal last season, and Campbell joined defenseman Vincent LoVerde, forward Jonny Brodzinski and head coach Mike Stothers, who was behind the bench for the Pacific Division.

“Me and Remps went there and had a blast, we really enjoyed it,” Walker said. “Obviously going in, I didn’t really know anybody besides Remps, so that gives you a little bit more comfortable situation. To go and be there with him and enjoy everything and do everything together, that was a good time.”

Having his teammates alongside him made the moment that much more special for Campbell, who had the luxury of not only having two fellow Reign players, but also his usual bench boss.

“It was a fun experience,” Campbell said. “We had Stutts as the coach, which was a big honor for him I think he went to quite a few [three] in a row, that was cool. Vinny LoVerde on defense, Jonny Brodzinski and myself, it was just really fun to share that moment with them and compete.”

While the All-Star Challenge was also memorable, both players spoke highly of the uniqueness that is the Skills Competition. Walker participated in the Fastest Skater competition, the Pass and Score event and the Breakaway Relay. While he found success in the latter two events, Walker recalls being tasked with starting off the fastest skater contest for the entire event.

“It was fun, but I had to go first, so I was a little nervous,” Walker recalled. “I wasn’t too sure which way I wanted to go, but it was fun, I just had fun with it.”

While the Skills Competition isn’t always easy for goaltenders, Campbell still enjoyed his time at the event, taking it as an opportunity to meet some of the players around the league that are usually opponents, but teammates for one weekend.

“I remember the Skills event, it was really cool,” Campbell said. “I just remember it was a really fun time, the players were really cool, from around the league. You get to know some of the guys that you see up in the NHL now, it’s just a special bond from around the league.”

Both players really liked the experience of playing on that night with the glass taken out. The Skills Competition is a one-of-a-kind event for fan interaction, with no glass separating the players from the crowd along the sideboards. Walker remarked how if he was a kid and the event was held in his hometown he’d have been pretty psyched, noting that it “would be pretty awesome as a fan.”

Campbell felt the same way and emphasized how unique the Skills Competition is. Fan interaction is a big part of hockey, especially in the American Hockey League, but the All-Star Classic takes that to another level.

“I think as a little kid, or as a true fan of the game, it’s a unique experience, being able to interact with the players,” Campbell said. “It’s not just getting a puck, but you can say hi and different little things like that, it was really cool.”

Both players agreed that it would have been cool to experience the All-Star Classic on home ice in Ontario. Walker talked up the city as a whole, and encouraged travelers from outside the area to take in the restaurants and shopping that the Inland Empire has to offer, while enjoying two days of hockey at Toyota Arena.

“It will be great to have [the All-Star Classic] at Toyota Arena, it’s a great facility there,” Walker said. “I think the people will really appreciate the city of Ontario, there’s a lot of restaurants, a lot of shopping, a lot of things people can do when they’re there as well. I think they’ll have a great time, it’s a great place to have an event and I think they will definitely enjoy themselves.”

Campbell highlighted the talent that will be on the ice that weekend, and noted that while many of the best players in the world are currently in the NHL, the best players of the world to come will be in Ontario this coming weekend.

“I think if you’re into good hockey, and watching the best players in the world – some are in the NHL right now and some are well on their way – come on out to Ontario and have fun and watch the skill on the ice,” Campbell said. “It will be worth it.”