SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Ten years ago today, the stars were shining bright in Hershey, as the AHL All-Star Game made its return to Chocolatetown – with a new twist.
After a 35-year absence, the AHL’s showcase event had returned in 1995 to rave reviews. In 1996, the league introduced a Skills Competition to the event, expanding it to the two-day All-Star Classic we know today. The ’96 event marked the third time that venerable Hersheypark Arena had hosted an AHL All-Star Game. After the Hershey Writers and Sportscasters Association suggested the event be reinstated in 1954, the Bears hosted a game between a team of All-Stars and the defending Calder Cup champion Cleveland Barons. The game was back in Hershey in 1959 following the Bears’ own championship.
By 1996, the format had changed to pit a team of All-Stars from the AHL’s six Canadian teams against All-Stars from the league’s 12 U.S.-based clubs. Steve Sullivan, who has gone on to score nearly 200 goals in nine NHL seasons, captured the first Puck Control Relay. Jamie Heward, now of the Washington Capitals, won the Hardest Shot contest with a blast recorded at 99.7 miles per hour. And Eric Fichaud won the Top Goaltender Competition to help the U.S. to a 14-12 victory on the night.
Marty Murray, who would later captain Saint John to the 2001 Calder Cup championship, gave the Canadian team the lead just 29 seconds in on the night of Jan. 16, still the fastest goal ever from the start of an AHL All-Star Game. But the U.S. side responded swiftly, with current Minnesota Wild forward Wes Walz picking up three points during an 11-minute assault that turned the early 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead. Canada battled back, but the U.S. held on for a 6-5 victory; Walz was named MVP.
Other notable AHL All-Stars on display in 1996 included three-time NHL All-Star Pavol Demitra; current NHL goaltenders Manny Legace, Dwayne Roloson and Mike Dunham; U.S. co-captain John Stevens, who coached Philadelphia to the Calder Cup title in 2005; and four future members of the AHL’s 500-point club: Mitch Lamoureux, Michel Picard, Jeff Nelson and Ken Gernander.
The tradition of the AHL’s mid-season showcase carries on in two weeks, when the 2006 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic takes place in Winnipeg on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
AHL MOURNS LOSSES … Marc Potvin, a Calder Cup champion from his playing days and the head coach of the Springfield Falcons from 2000-02, died Friday at the age of 38. Potvin played 296 AHL games for Adirondack, Providence and Portland, winning a title with the Red Wings in 1992. He also claimed an IHL championship with the Chicago Wolves in 1998.
Also Friday, long-time Maine sportscaster Frank Fixaris died at 71. Fixaris, who provided analysis on Maine Mariners and Portland Pirates broadcasts during his career, was a winner of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Award in 1977-78.
HALFWAY HOME … With 546 games in the books, the AHL is just past the midpoint of the 2005-06 regular season. Three players are on pace to record at least 100 points, with two vying to become the first AHL teammates to finish one-two in the league in scoring in 20 years. And at 29-5-3-1, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lead the league with 62 points through 38 games (entering Monday afternoon); the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers, en route to an all-time best 57-13-10 record, had 61 points through 38 games.
Other league leaders at the turn:
Points 59 Kirby Law, HOU
Erik Westrum, HOU
Goals 26 Kirby Law, HOU
Assists 40 Erik Westrum, HOU
Points (rookie) 41 Patrick O’Sullivan, HOU
Goals (rookie) 20 Roman Voloshenko, HOU
Assists (rookie) 25 Ryan Getzlaf, POR
Points (defenseman) 39 Andy Delmore, SYR
Goals (defenseman) 13 Bruno Gervais, BRI
Sven Butenschon, MTB
Assists (defenseman) 32 Andy Delmore, SYR
Power Play Goals 13 Peter Sejna, PEO
Shorthanded Goals 4 Alexandre Giroux, HFD
Game-Winning Goals 6 Steve Bernier, CLE
Plus/Minus +19 Dustin Penner, POR
Alain Nasreddine, WBS
Penalty Minutes 238 Josh Gratton, PHI
GAA 1.96 Dany Sabourin, WBS
Save Percentage .934 Dany Sabourin, WBS
Wins 21 Josh Harding, HOU
Shutouts 6 Wade Flaherty, MTB
Power Play % 21.6 Grand Rapids
Penalty Killing % 89.8 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Goals For/Game 3.90 Grand Rapids
Goals Against/Game 1.79 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
Average Attendance 8,502 Manchester