The American Hockey League held their All-Star Skills Competition in Utica, New York at the Adirondack Bank Center. It consisted of seven events that netted individual winners and a team winner in the Eastern Conference. This was just the second time in the last seven years that the East has won this event and the first time since 2015.
The Binghamton Devils were being represented by Bracken Kearns (who is also the captain of the Eastern Conference for tomorrow’s AHL All-Star Game) and Jacob MacDonald. There was also a former New Jersey Devil in the form of Reid Boucher (now of the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) participating.
The first event was the Puck Control Relay, which consists of two rounds of a team of three players grabbing a puck at one end of the rink and skating through a course. The final two rounds are one-on-one with one skater representing a side.
The West won the first round, with Matt Lorito (Grand Rapids Griffins), Emil Pettersson (Milwaukee Admirals) and Mason Appleton (Manitoba Moose) giving them the lead. The East won the second three-man round as Mitchell Stephens (Syracuse Crunch), Justin Holl (Toronto Marlies) and CJ Smith (Rochester Americans) claimed victory.
The final two rounds, both one-on-one races saw Chris Terry (Laval Rocket) win for the East and Boucher win for the West. At the end of the first event, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference were each tied at a “goal” apiece. A goal being earned for a victory in each event.
Next up was the Fastest Skater event. Here, a goal was awarded to the player with the best time’s team and to the team with the best average time. John Gilmour of the Hartford Wolf Pack of the East won the individual time challenge with 13.663 seconds around the perimeter of the rink. The East also gained a point for having the fastest average time, as Warren Foegele (Charlotte Checkers) – 14.506 and Stephens – 14.072 were also faster than their Western counterparts.
Next was the Rapid Fire event where a goalie faces two shooters one-on-one. The Conference with the most saves gained a goal. The East won this one 32 saves to 30. East netminders included Jordan Binnington (Providence Bruins), Linus Ullmark (Rochester), Christopher Gibson (Bridgeport SoundTigers) and Thatcher Demko (Utica). The East was up in the overall competition 5-2.
Event four was the Hardest Shot competition. This one is like the Fastest Skater competition, as there was an individual winner and the team with the best average shot also gaining a goal. The individual winner was Alexandre Grenier of the Springfield Thunderbirds with 104.1 miles per hour, giving the East a goal. However, the West won the average as Brady Austin (Cleveland Monsters) – 101.5 MPH, Andy Welinsky (San Diego Gulls) – 97.8 MPH, Cameron Schilling (Manitoba) – 102.0 MPH and Rasmus Andersson (Stockton Heat) – 101.5 MPH had the better aggregate. MacDonald took part in this event, with 98.0 MPH being the better of his two shots.
The next event was the Accuracy Shooting. This is still similar to how the NHL used to do things, with players shooting at styrofoam targets and breaking them, the player who breaks all four targets in the fewest shots wins. The team that does so also gains a goal. There were co-winners of this one, both from the East. Chris Terry and Chris Bourque (Hershey Bears) were the individual winners, each breaking the four targets in five attempts. The East gained a team win too, taking 25 shots to break 16 targets. The other shooters for the East were Valentin Zykov of Charlotte (4/7) and Boucher (4/8).
The next event was every goalies nightmare: the Pass and Score challenge. Basically, three skaters come down on the goaltender 3-on-0 and the goalie has to stop them as many times as they can in three tries. The West won this one 6 goals to 2. Binnington made two saves on three shots for the East in round one. In round two, Anders Lindback (Milwaukee) stopped two of three shots (MacDonald was shooting for the East in this round) for the West. Ullmark gave up goals on all three shots he faced in round three for the East. Antoine Bibeau (San Jose Barracuda) stopped all three East shots he saw in round four. Round five saw the West score once on Gibson against two saves. In round six, Cal Petersen of the Ontario Reign made a stop on three shots. Round seven saw Thatcher Demko of Utica give up a goal to the West. And, finally, in round eight, Michael Hutchinson of Manitoba made all three stops against an Eastern onslaught that included Bracken Kearns of Binghamton.
After six events, it was the Eastern Conference 10 and the Western Conference 9 on the total scoreboard.
The final event was the Breakaway Relay, where every All-Star got a chance to break in on a goalie in eight rounds. The East won this event 8-3, giving them the overall title. Binghamton’s MacDonald scored a goal against Bibeau in round four that the NHL Network announcers called the goal of the night, a real compliment in a skills competition, for sure. Kearns went up against Hutchinson in round eight and was stopped.
So, the Eastern Conference came away with the overall win, 18-12. The fans in Utica and the players really seemed to be enjoying themselves in what was a fun event to witness.
We will see you back here tomorrow for the AHL All-Star Classic.