North Division Wins AHL All-Star Classic as Batherson Takes Home MVP Honors

The AHL’s All-Star Challenge took place at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts yesterday. It was a homecoming of sorts for the AHL as they have their headquarters in the city. The All-Stars each put forth a good showing with the North Division (featuring the Binghamton Devils’ John Quenneville and Mackenzie Blackwood) taking it all in the tournament between divisions. It was the North’s second straight victory as they also took the tournament last year.

First up was the round robin. Here games were ten minutes (with a break and goalie change at five minutes) and saw each division play each other once. At the end of the round robin, the teams with the best record met in a six minute championship game.

The first game featured the Central Division taking on the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic took this one 3-1. The Atlantic got goals from Colin McDonald (the Atlantic captain), Trevor Carrick and John Gilmour (who scored into an empty net). Denis Gurianov scored for the Central and he actually scored first in the game to give the Central a quick 1-0 lead that would not last. In goal in this game, Troy Grosenick started for the Central and stopped all six shots he saw. Kaapo Kahkonen then came in and also faced six shots, letting in two. For the Atlantic, Vitek Vanecek stopped all four he saw and Samuel Montembeault – the starter – turned aside two of three.

The next game was another East-West matchup as the Pacific All-Stars faced the North All-Stars. The Pacific won this one 4-2, getting on the board first when Joe Gambardella scored. In the second “half” Sheldon Rempal gave the Pacific a 2-0 lead. The North would tie things up when Drake Batherson (who would go on to be named the game’s Most Valuable Player for his performance) scored a pair in the second but the Pacific would fight back for the win. Sean Walker scored the game winner followed by Cooper Marody into an empty net. The goaltenders were busy in this one, Kevin Boyle, starting for the Pacific stopped all four shots he saw while Josef Korenar saw 11 shots and saved nine of them. For the North, Blackwood got the save and saw two shots, stopping one of them. Connor Ingram came on in the second and saved five of seven.

The North stayed on the ice as they took on the Central Division next. The North came out victorious 4-2. John Quenneville had a good game in this one, scoring the opener in the first unassisted. Joel L’Esperance tied it early in the second but Batherson put the North back up when he scored off an assist from Quenneville. But again, the Central tied it when Daniel Carr scored a little over a minute later. The North finally took the lead for good when Reid Boucher scored the game winner. Batherson would add an empty net goal to give the North the win. In nets, Grosenick stopped six of eight while the starter, Kahkonen stopped three of four for the Central. For the North, starter Ingram stopped all three he saw while Blackwood had four saves on six shots.

It was a cross-continent matchup in the next game as the Pacific took on the Atlantic. The Atlantic took this one 5-2, taking an early lead in the first when Gilmour and Ethan Prow scored with a Pacific goal by Francis Perron sandwiched in between. In the second, Gilmour, Andrew Poturalski and Michael Dal Colle scored for the Atlantic while Walker added a late one for the Pacific. The goalies were Korenar starting for the Pacific and making three saves on five shots. Kevin Boyle came in for him and stopped one in four shots taken. For the Atlantic, Vanecek stopped four of five while Montembeault came in and made eight saves on nine shots.

An all-Western Conference battle ensued next with the Central taking on the Pacific. The Central won 5-3. The Pacific took the early lead when Michael Bunting scored just 28 seconds in. Near the closing of the second, Gurianov tied the game at one. The Central took control in the second when Matt Donovan notched two with 20 seconds of each other. Jacob Middleton of the Pacific scored before the Central scored two more: Chris Terry at 4:04 and Daniel Carr into an empty net at 4:33. Walker scored one with less than 15 seconds remaining for the Pacific. Grosenick made seven saves on eight shots while Kahkonen made ten saves on twelve shots for the Central All-Stars. For the Pacific, Boyle made three saves on four shots while Korenar stopped three of six.

Following an all-West game, the East took center stage. The North faced the Atlantic and won 4-1. Nathan Gerbe and Boucher got the North up by two early. Gerbe would score again in the second while Greg Carey notched the only Atlantic goal a few seconds after that. Batherson finished things off to give the North the victory. Blackwood started for the North and turned aside the only shot he saw. Ingram came on in the second and stopped four of five in the winning effort. For the Atlantic, hometown boy Montembeault stopped seven of nine while Vanecek, coming on in the second, made four saves on five shots.

With that, round robin play came to an end and the championship game was set. The Atlantic at 2-1 would take on the North also at 2-1. This game was just six minutes long and saw the North win 1-0 in a shootout. When the game finished with no score, it was up to Blackwood and Vanecek to take on shooters one-on-one in a shootout.

Boucher went first for the North with Vanecek stopping him. Anthony Greco was first up for the Atlantic and he was also stopped. Batherson (North) and Dal Colle (Atlantic) went next and both scored. Gerbe (North) and Poturalski (Atlantic) were stopped in the next round and we were on to round four. Trevor Moore scored on his attempt for the North Division and Carey was stopped by Blackwood on his try to give the North the 1-0 win. In the game itself, Blackwood stopped all three shots he saw and Vanecek stopped all six he saw.

So with that another All-Star game comes to an end. The Devils (both the NHL and AHL versions) fared well, with both of their divisions winning their respective games and their players contributing.

We will see you right here for Devils-Rangers coverage on Thursday. Again, if you wish, please remember to comment on this and any other post on the site. We really appreciate it.

North Division Wins AHL All-Star Classic on Home Ice

The North Division was down and out in the AHL All-Star Classic until a comeback and an improbable win in the final set them up to win the round robin formatted mini tournament.

The format is similar to the NHL’s in that it is three-on-three and is contested between the league’s four divisions. However, the AHL does things a little bit differently. Each division plays each other at least once in a round robin-style tournament with the two teams with the best record facing off in the final. The Binghamton Devils play in the North Division.

The pregame ceremonies involved a former Devil in a prominent role. Scott Pellerin, who was drafted by the Devils in 1989 and played 52 games for New Jersey between 1992-93 and 1995-96 and played in Utica for the AHL’s Utica Devils in the early-90s, was the honorary captain for the Eastern Conference. In addition, Binghamton Devil Bracken Kearns was the playing captain for the Eastern Conference.

The tournament got kicked off with the Pacific Division meeting the North Division. The Pacific won this one, 5-3. The Pacific got goals from Rudolfs Balcers, Kyle Capobianco and Nick Merkley in the first five minute half while the North saw Matt Taormina and Reid Boucher score. Capobianco and Balcers added one more each in the second half while Mitchell Stephens scored for the North. In goal, for the Pacific, Antoine Bibeau made six saves on eight shots and Cal Petersen made four saves on five shots. For the North, Linus Ullmark made two saves on four shots while Thatcher Demko was 2-for-5.

In the second game of the evening, the Central Division (who has won both of the previous two AHL All-Star Classics under this format) began the defense of their title against the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic won 5-2. Goal scorers for the Atlantic were Chris Bourque, New Jersey-native TJ Brennan (who had two), Alexandre Grenier and John Gilmour. Matt Puempel and Matthew Highmore scored for the Central. Between the pipes, Michael Hutchinson was 4-for-6 and Anders Lindback was 2-for-5 for the Central while Jordan Binnington allowed two goals on both shots he faced and Christopher Gibson saw no shots in his half of play.

The Central took on the North in the third game and the North won, 4-2. The Central actually got off to the quick 2-0 lead when Matt Lorito scored just eight seconds in and again at the 3:50 mark. But the North scored four unanswered: CJ Smith scored (with an assist to Binghamton’s Jacob MacDonald), then Gabriel Gagne. MacDonald added one of his own and Boucher put the game away as the North completed the comeback with an empty netter. For the Central, Hutchinson made six saves on seven shots while Lindback saw two shots and let in both. For the North, Ullmark let in two of the four shots he faced while Demko turned aside all seven shots he saw.

Game four saw one of the closer games of the tournament with the Pacific defeating the Atlantic 4-3. The Atlantic got a goal from Mitchell Vande Sompel just 51 seconds in to the contest, but the Pacific answered back with four straight. Dylan Strome, Andy Welinski, NIck Merkley and Strome again scored. The Atlantic added another from Vande Sompel and one from Austin Czarnik, but it was too little too late as the Pacific had done its damage. Bibeau turned away six shots on eight shots while Petersen stopped two of three for the Pacific. For the Atlantic, Binnington stopped 5-of-6 and Gibson 2-of-5.

Next up, the Pacific beat the Central 4-3. Capobianco got the scoring started at 2:50 into the first for the Pacific. The Central answered with Puempel scoring at 3:41. The Pacific then scored the next two with Rasmus Andersson and Strome scoring in succession. Cameron Schilling netted one for the Central right before time ran out in the first half. TJ Tynan then tied things briefly in the second when he scored at 2:55. But Andersson scored his second of the game at 4:48 to give the Pacific the win. For the Central, Hutchinson made one save on two shots and Lindback made two saves on five shots. Bibeau was tested six times and equal to four of them for the Pacific and Petersen stopped one of two faced.

The final game of the round robin featured an Eastern Conference battle as the Atlantic Division took on the North Division with the North winning 4-3 on an amazing comeback. There was no scoring in the first half, setting up a wild second. The Atlantic scored the first three from Vande Sompel, Czarnik and Brennan before the North came roaring back. Boucher scored at 2:09 to start the comeback, then Stephens scored, followed by the game tying goal from CJ Smith. Finally, Matt Taormina was the hero, scoring at 4:47 to give the North the win and to propel them into the final. Goaltending saw Binnington stop all three shots he saw in the first for the Atlantic while Gibson gave up four goals on eight shots. For the North, Ullmark stopped all of his four challenges in the first while Thatcher stopped two shots on five faced.

That would set up a six minute final game between the Pacific Division and the North Division with the North completing their comeback by winning 1-0 to take the tournament. CJ Smith scored the game winner at 2:40 into the first three minute half. Ullmark and Thatcher each faced two shots and turned them aside, with Thatcher, of the hometown Utica Comets, making a few amazing acrobatic saves. For the Pacific, Bibeau faced no shots while Peterson faced three and stopped two in taking the hardluck loss.

CJ Smith of the Rochester Americans was awarded the MVP of the tournament for his role in helping the North Division to victory.

Overall, it was an exciting weekend in Utica for the AHL All-Star Classic. It is always cool to see some of the up-and-coming youngsters on display with some veterans who may not have gotten much of a chance at the NHL level all being rewarded for their hard work and to see some wonderful hockey on display as well.