Four divisions, four teams competing, but only one can win the title. And that team was the Atlantic, largely thanks to Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) netminder Vitek Vanecek who allowed only two goals in four games.
The 2020 AHL All Star Classic featured six games and the championship. Each division played three times before the top two teams with the best record advanced to the final game of the evening. Each mini competition was 10 minutes in total with two five minute periods.
Kicking off the festivities was the Pacific against the North. The Pacific jumped out to an early two-goal lead before the North quickly erased it. The Pacific regained the lead and doubled up the North at the end of the first half. But the North got their revenge and even gained their first lead in the second half before the Pacific tied it with the goalie pulled in the final minute.
Since the game ended in a regulation tie, a shootout was needed to determine the winner. As the first skater got set to make his attempt, the crowd very boisterously burst into a “We want Cal!” chant. They didn’t get their wish but Anthony Stolarz stopped the two shots he saw while both Pacific skaters scored.
Cal Petersen was in net for two goals against on eight shots and picked up a secondary assist on the Pacific’s second goal. Martin Frk had a helper on Kale Clague’s goal while the defenseman picked up two apples for three points in the first game.
The Atlantic and Central Divisions played Game 2 in a reverse of what the final score would be; Central took this matchup 3-1.
Next, the North and Central squared off in what ended up being a tight, but very fun game. It only took eight seconds for Sam Anas (Iowa Wild) of the Central Division to open the scoring on Kasimir Kaskisuo (Toronto Marlies), who played all 10 minutes of this game. The score was 4-2 Central by the end of the first period. With six goals in five minutes, the crowd really got into the game (even if they were mostly indifferent to these two particular teams). The North scored three times in the second, but with the Central adding two of their own, the comeback came up just short.
The fourth game featured eventual champions Atlantic versus Pacific. Despite scoring first (and last), the Atlantic scored three times between to beat the Pacific. Clague added another assist to his growing tally. Matt Moulson (now playing for the Hershey Bears) scored just 14 seconds into the second period and the crowd had such mixed feelings, evident in their half groan, half cheer. Sam Miletic (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins) scored the game-winner for the Atlantic.
Game Five was Atlantic versus the North and that game was all Atlantic. The North had trouble keeping the puck out of their net, surrendering five goals and only scoring two of their own.
The final game of the round-robin was Central versus Pacific and featured another exciting comeback—except this time, it was the Central who did the coming back. Once again, the Pacific jumped out to an early 2-0 lead only to see it vanish almost as quickly. To be fair, one of the Central’s goals was an own-goal thanks to Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose Barracuda) who accidentally deflected the puck past Petersen in the first period, tying the game at two.
T.J. Tynan (Colorado Eagles) and Clague teamed up in the second period, hoping to put this game away so the Pacific could advance to the Championship. Clague added a secondary assist (bringing his point total to six on the evening) on a Blichfeld shot (this time, in the correct net) to put the Pacific up 4-2. With 34 seconds on the clock and the goalie pulled, Lucas Elvenes (Chicago Wolves) scored to pull the Central within one. In the dying seconds, Stolarz attempted a goalie goal but ended up turning the puck over to Alexandre Carrier who tied the game again.
The game went to a shootout in which Stolarz stopped all three attempts that came his way and Clague scored the only goal for the Pacific. But oh, baby, what a goal it was! Kevin Lankinen (Rockford IceHogs) went around the world but couldn’t stop this sick move from Clague.
Clague’s teammates had the best reactions. Every single one of them couldn’t stop smiling and all of them had to check out the scoreboard for the replay. Even the Pacific coach couldn’t help a broad grin crossing his face.
However, it was all for naught (well, it was for fun) as the Pacific didn’t advance thanks to the Central having a better goal differential (if shootouts don’t count, then the Central had a goal differential of +3 while the Pacific’s differential was -2).
So it all came down to this: Atlantic against Central. Since the game was only six minutes, maybe those extra four minutes prevented the Central from completing a comeback. But then again, the Atlantic had a jump right from the drop of the puck.
Vinni Lettieri (Hartford Wolf Pack) and Jack Studnicka (Providence Bruins) scored 22 seconds apart at the beginning of the game. Studnicka added a second goal two and a half minutes later before Matthew Ford (Grand Rapids Griffins) finally got the Central Division on the board. All four goalies split equal playing time (as much as possible in six minutes) but Czech Republic native Vanecek was on another level. It’s almost like while everyone was playing hockey, he was playing chess. Boom. Czechmate.
The Reign are off for a few days before getting back to work this weekend against the Bakersfield Condors. Their next home game will be Saturday, February 8 versus the Tuscon Roadrunners.