2016 AHL All-Star Classic: Central Division brings home a win for Western Conference

By Sean Shapiro
Nick Ritchie - Pacific Division - 2016 AHL All-Star Classic

Photo: Although his Pacific Division team didn’t do so well at the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic, San Diego Gulls forward and Anaheim Ducks prospect Nick Ritchie (#20) did his best to help the team succeed with a two-goal, one-assist performance (courtesy of Scott Thomas Photography/AHL)

 

 

The AHL All-Star Classic is wacky, fun-filled event that doesn’t reflect a real hockey game.

And the 2016 edition of the event in Syracuse, New York took it to a new level. Instead of a traditional game, the AHL adopted a divisional-based, round-robin tournament with the games split between 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 play.

In the end, the Central Division topped the Atlantic Division in a six-minute championship game, 4-0.

While none of the players will earn an NHL call-up for All-Star performances, it was a weekend many of the prospects said could propel them into the second half of the season.

“I think so,” San Antonio Rampage forward and Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen said. “It’s good to be around the best players in the league.”

While the Pacific Division team went 1-2 in the tournament, Rantanen should be an exciting player to watch in the second half of the season.

The 19-year-old has missed time with injury this season, but has been San Antonio’s best player when healthy. He entered the All-Stars break with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games and scored a pretty goal on a backhand in the All-Star Classic.

Pacific Division teammate Derek Grant showed off the speed that has helped him register 36 points in 28 games for the Stockton Heat. The Calgary Flames prospect won the Fastest Skater contest during the Skills Competition with a time of 14.307 seconds, and then sped away for a pair of breakaway goals on Monday.

While 10 goals were scored in the Pacific vs. Central matchup, the players actually played a little bit of defense in the first couple of games.

Grand Rapids Griffins defenseman Xavier Ouellet broke up a couple chances early on, then showed off his hands when he scored on a nifty backhand later in the tournament.

The Western Conference goaltenders also performed well despite less than desirable circumstances.

Winnipeg Jets prospect and Manitoba Moose goalie Eric Comrie dazzled in the Skills Competition and then made several nice stops in the tournament. Despite the heavy workload he faces in Manitoba, the 20-year-old still has a .910 save percentage at the midway point of the season.

His Pacific Division counterpart and Edmonton Oilers prospect, Laurent Brossoit, didn’t have much defensive help but still made a trio of highlight-reel saves. The big goaltender (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) has appeared in 24 games for the Bakersfield Condors and has a .924 save percentage to go along with a 2.61 goals-against average.

A couple of older players also put on a show in the tournament. Chicago Wolves captain Pat Cannone scored three goals in the tournament, including an insurance goal in the championship game as he gained MVP honors.

“It was a good tournament,” Cannone said. “I thought the league did a nice job with the format.”

Derek Ryan, who came back to North America after winning the Swedish Hockey League’s MVP award last season, scored one of the best goals of the night when he faked out Portland Pirates goalie Mike McKenna in tight.

Follow Sean Shapiro on Twitter via @seanshapiro