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Stars shine on Winnipeg

WINNIPEG (CP) – If American Hockey League president and CEO David Andrews had any doubts about holding the league’s first all-star game on the Canadian prairies, they were quickly wiped out Wednesday night.

A sell-out crowd of 15,015 fans at MTS Centre set a new all-star game attendance record as the Canadian All-Stars defeated PlanetUSA 9-4. The previous record was 14,120 fans in Philadelphia in 1999.

Despite the flurry of goals, the AHL all-star record of 24 combined goals in a 13-11 Canadian victory in St. John’s, Nfld., in 2002 still stands.

Houston’s Patrick O’Sullivan of PlanetUSA scored the game’s first goal against Canadian netminder Wade Flaherty of the Manitoba Moose at 5:02 of the first period, but it was the only lead they would hold.

The Canadians responded with seven unanswered goals – by seven different players – to make it 7-1 by the 18-minute mark of the second period.

The streak was stopped when PlanetUSA captain Eric Healey beat Canadian goalie Yann Danis with 56 seconds left in the second.

Canadians Donald MacLean and Martin St. Pierre each scored a pair of goals and Rochester’s Nathan Paetsch had three assists.

PlanetUSA’s John Pohl of the Toronto Marlies also scored two goals.

Flaherty and Danis were both named the game’s most valuable players.

In a state of the league press conference before the game, Andrews said he doesn’t anticipate adding more Canadian teams to the current trio of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Moose and Marlies.

"One of the things that we are not interested in doing is attempting to make life difficult for Canadian hockey leagues or look at markets where there are major junior teams and try to compete with them," Andrews said. "When you look at what opportunities there are across Canada, there are not very many buildings or markets that are available to the American Hockey League that don’t already have a tenant from one of the major junior leagues.

"If you find one, call us."

The Marlies, the affiliate of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs, are in their first AHL season. The club has averaged 4,597 fans to date at the 9,500-seat Ricoh Coliseum, 16th among the 27 AHL teams.

"In the fall, I think, they anticipated they were going to sell the building every night, simply based on the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the Toronto Maple Leafs and it’s a fantastic building," Andrews said.

Part of the problem is weekday games, which all teams find a challenge to sell, he said. However, ticket sales have increased since Christmas and that’s been positive.

The NHL Edmonton Oilers are looking for a full AHL affiliate after its Edmonton Road Runners only lasted the 2004-05 AHL season.

"They are looking at a number of markets right now, and I don’t believe any of them are in Canada," Andrews said.

Six to seven affiliation agreements expire at the end of this season, including Manitoba’s connection to the Vancouver Canucks. Two teams, the Utah Grizzlies (not playing this season) and the Lowell Lock Monsters, are for sale.

Andrews said the hope is to have a 30-team loop for the 2007-08 season.