Return of All-Star Classic a highlight of upcoming season

Photo: Vitor Munhoz / NHLI via Getty Images

📝 by Patrick Williams

The stars are back at long last, and future National Hockey League talent will be a given.

The American Hockey League All-Star Classic returns this February.

Place Bell’s loud, passionate crowds captured attention around the AHL this past spring during the Laval Rocket’s charge to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now the building will be back center stage this season when it welcomes the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Bell on Feb. 5 and 6.

The event has already attracted strong corporate support from some of Canada’s top companies. Bell, along with Manulife Bank, will be the All-Star Classic’s presenting sponsors in Laval while the AHL All-Star Skills Competition will be presented by Rona. This season’s All-Star Classic is back in Canada for the first time since 2014, and this will also mark the first time that it has come to the province of Quebec.

Laval’s participation will end a long wait for both the AHL and its fans. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the event’s postponement in both 2021 and 2022.

When the All-Star Classic was held in 2020, sniper Martin Frk, then of the host Ontario Reign, broke the AHL record in the CCM Hardest Shot event, unleashing a 109.2 mph rocket that attracted headlines across the hockey world. Alex Formenton, a Belleville Senators rookie that season, notched the third-fastest time in the CCM Fastest Skater event’s history with a lap of 13.356 seconds. The Western Conference took an 18-15 victory in that night’s AHL All-Star Skills Competition at Toyota Arena.

Fans in Laval will be able to see this season’s crop of talent that blends top future NHL talent with elite AHL veterans. Now NHL regulars, goaltenders Alex Nedeljkovic, Cal Petersen, and Vitek Vanecek each participated that year in Ontario.

And last week three AHL All-Star Classic alumni – defensemen Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban, and Keith Yandle – each announced their retirements following distinguished NHL careers. Another alumnus, St. Louis Blues forward Jordan Kyrou, signed an eight-year contract with the team earlier this month. They all make up part of the 94 percent of All-Star Classic selections who have later moved on to NHL careers, a group that also includes the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Connor Hellebuyck, and Mikko Rantanen among many others.

Off the ice, the AHL Hall of Fame inductions will return as well. The league will honor long-time AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews as the Class of 2021, and Keith Aucoin, Nolan Baumgartner, Dave Creighton, and Bill Torrey as members of the Class of 2022. The All-Star Classic was one of the early achievements for Andrews after he took office in July 1994; he halted a 35-year absence for league All-Star play in the 1994-95 season as the Providence Bruins hosted the reborn event.

After Laval takes its turn welcoming the AHL’s top talent this season, the event will return to the West Coast during the 2023-24 season at Tech CU Arena, the brand-new home of the San Jose Barracuda.

UP NEXT: A look at some of the AHL’s 2021-22 award winners who continue to battle for NHL jobs this week at training camp.