PlanetUSA Team shines in AHL All-Star festivities

By Leslie Treff

The two-day AHL All-Star festivities ended with the European/US All-Stars winning both the skills competition and game itself. In the game, the PlanetUSA team defeated the All-Stars from Canada by a score of 7-6, after defeating the Canadian team the night before in skills by a score of 19-14.

The festivities began on Sunday night, and were held at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum (the Marlies’ home rink). The players ranged in age from 20 to 39. Several had spent quite a bit of time in the NHL, including the oldest player selected to participate in the two-day event, Mike Keane, an NHL veteran who in 1999, hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars. Keane served as the captain of the Canadian team, while another NHL vet, Kip Miller, served as captain of the PlanetUSA team.

The youngest player selected to participate was 20-year-old PlanetUSA defenseman Matt Lashoff, a 2005 first-round selection of the Boston Bruins. A big offensive blueliner, the young Lashoff showed some moves during the skills competition that had everyone in the house abuzz. Even honorary team captain Adam Oates joked that he could not have made Lashoff’s move when he was playing in the NHL.

Several players who had been selected to play in the All-Star Game had to be replaced at the last minute because they were called up to their NHL teams.  Jason Krog (claimed off waivers by the New York Rangers), Daniel Girardi (NYR), Lawrence Nycholat (WAS), Mathieu Roy (EDM), Zenon Konopka (CBS), Patrick O’Sullivan (LAK), and Noah Welch (PIT). Eight players were late additions to the AHL rosters, including  Kris Newbury (TOR) Sheldon Brookbank, Nolan Baumgartner,  Keith Aucoin, Matt Lashoff  Nathan Oystrick (ATL), and Joe Motzko, however, after participating in the skills competition last evening, Newbury was recalled by the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs, and thus did not play in tonight’s game.

The skills competition consisted of seven events, including a puck control relay, skater, rapid-fire shots at the goaltenders, the hardest shot contest, accuracy shooting, as well as two group contests, pass and score and breakaway relay.

The PlanetUSA all-stars won the competition by a score of 19-14, however after jumping out to a quick lead, the team held on behind the great goaltending of Karri Ramo (TB). The individual skills contest winners were Jon Filewich (PIT) for fastest skater (14.553 seconds); Dustin Byfuglein (CHI) for hardest shot (98.7); and Clarke MacArthur (BUF), for shooting accuracy (4 targets in 5 shots).

The AHL also used this weekend to induct players into the league’s Hall of Fame, and to address the State of the League. President and CEO of the AHL, David Andrews allowed the press to peeper him with questions about the state of the AHL. He reported that he believes injures are way down since the adoption of the facial protection rule (visors), and that injury statistics have started to be collected by the league. Andrews also announced that "new" NHL jersey style, revealed last week at the All-Star Game in Dallas, will be worn by AHL players next season. When asked about the possibility of going to a two-referee system Andrews discussed the financial costs of doing so, and expressed his personal preference for the one-referee system. Finally, the league president stated that it was his hope that by the 2008-09 season, there will be 30 AHL teams in the league, with 30 NHL affiliates.

The All-Star Game tonight was the culmination of the two days of events. After the players took the ice and the formalities were over, it was immediately obvious that the players took the game very seriously. There was checking and hitting (but no penalties called). Brett Sterling (ATL) was given the MVP Award for the game, after tallying a total of two goals and one assist. Both goals were on breakaways, and each showed his great hands.

Other players of note in the game were Martin St. Pierre (CHI) with one goal and two assists for Canada, and Alexandre Giroux (WAS), who two goals for the Canadian All-Stars. No player had a more timely goal than Hartford Wolf Pack winger Ryan Callahan (NYR), who pushed the puck past Canadian netminder Curtis McElhinney (CAL) with just four seconds left in the game. With the game tied at six goals apiece, it looked like the game was going into overtime when Callahan got a goal from right in front of the net.

There has not yet been an announcement on next year’s site for the All-Star Classic. Andrews is keeping the location close to the vest; it should be announced later this week.

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