West Stages Comeback For Ages In All-Star Game

When the SHL decided to hold its first-ever All-Star Game this year, they were hoping for an opportunity to showcase the league’s best players and provide a fun midseason diversion.  The results of the game itself were strictly secondary.

As it turned out, the action on the ice surpassed everyone’s expectations, with a thrilling finish.  Trailing 3-0 after two periods, the Western team scored five goals in the last period – including three in the final five minutes – to hand the East a stunning 5-4 defeat at Constellation Center in Washington.

“Can you get fired from coaching All-Star Games?” said Eastern coach Rodney Reagle.  “That kind of collapse can get you walking the breadline.”

Prior to the West’s final-period rally, it appeared that they were going to pay the price for coach Ron Wright‘s controversial roster choices.  Wright constructed his roster with an emphasis on defense, including several members of his own Michigan Gray Wolves team.  He came under fire for omitting top scorers such as Seattle’s Vince Mango, Dakota’s Arkady Golynin, and Saskatchewan’s Napoleon Beasley from his squad.

Wright’s strategy appeared to backfire when his team was shut out over the first two periods.  Making matters worse, the East scored three goals in the first period against Wolves netminder Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, who later admitted that he “wasn’t totally focused.”  The first-place Hershey Bliss played a key role in the assault, with Justin Valentine and Christopher Hart both scoring on Lundquist.

“I stand by the choices I made,” said Wright.  “But I know that if we’d put up a zero, I would never have heard the end of it.”

Fortunately for Wright, the West’s offense came to life in the third after Reagle sat starting goalie Roger Orion in favor of backup Dennis Wampler.  “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston of the Dakota Jackalopes broke the shutout with a slapshot from the left faceoff circle four and a half minutes into the period.  The West gained additional momentum after killing off overlapping minor penalties.  Just over a minute after the successful penalty kill, Airston’s Dakota teammate Lars Karlsson deflected a shot past Wampler to make it 3-2.

Valentine restored the East’s two-game edge a couple minutes later by going top shelf against the West’s backup goalie, Ty Worthington of the Anchorage Igloos.  But in the closing minutes, the West staged an incredibly rally, led not by members of Wright’s Wolves, but by a pair of teammates from the Saskatchewan Shockers.

With just over five minutes remaining, the West managed a three-on-two breakaway that ended with Shockers winger Troy Chamberlain drilling it home between Wampler’s pads.  Two and a half minutes later, Shockers defenseman Wyatt Barnes tied it up with a blast from the blue line that eluded the screened Wampler.

It looked as though the inaugural All-Star Game was headed for overtime, but with 10 seconds remaining, Chamberlain released a sharp-angle shot that snuck just inside the pole for the winning goal.  Chamberlain’s late-game heroics earned him the MVP honor, with came along with a new Kia Optima sedan.

“This one’s for the fans back in Saskatchewan!” said Chamberlain as he accepted the award.  “The Shockers might not win the championship this year, but we’re a team on the rise.  Watch out for us!”  Chamberlain’s speech was interrupted by Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who grabbed the MVP trophy and ran around the ice shouting, “Behold, baby!  We finally won something!”

Per the terms of the bet between the coaches, Reagle now owes Wright six cans of Senate bean soup.  “I hope Ron likes the soup,” said Reagle.  “That was soup well earned.”

2017 SHL All-Star Game, West All-Stars @ East All-Stars, Constellation Center

                  1   2   3   OT   F
West All-Stars    0   0   5        5
East All-Stars    3   0   1        4

 
West All-Stars        G   A PTS PIM +/-   East All-Stars        G   A PTS PIM +/-

Airston        LW     1   0   1   0  -1   Alexander      LW     0   1   1   0   1
Kronstein      D      0   1   1   2  -1   Milton         D      0   1   1   0   1
Frost          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Valentine      C      2   0   2   0   1
Madison        D      0   1   1   0  -1   Sanchez        D      0   2   2   2   1
Ericsson       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   McNeely        RW     0   0   0   0   1
Koons          LW     0   1   1   2   1   Sweet          LW     0   1   1   0  -1
Barnes         D      1   1   2   0   1   Smyth          D      0   1   1   0  -1
Karlsson       C      1   1   2   0   1   Manning        C      1   0   1   0  -1
Keefe          D      0   0   0   0   1   Buchanan       D      0   1   1   0  -1
Lunsford       RW     0   1   1   2   1   Hart           RW     1   1   2   0  -1
Chamberlain    LW     2   0   2   2   2   Thurman        LW     0   0   0   0  -2
Mudrick        D      0   1   1   2   2   Jones          D      0   0   0   0  -2
Marlow         C      0   1   1   0   2   Frye           C      0   0   0   0  -2
Lambert        D      0   1   1   0   2   Warriner       D      0   0   0   0  -2
Poulin         RW     0   1   1   0   2   Trujwirnek     RW     0   0   0   0  -2
---------------------------------------   ---------------------------------------
TOTALS                5  10  15  10   2   TOTALS                4   8  12   2  -2



 
West All-Stars     SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist          25    22    3  0.880
Worthington	   20    19    1  0.950


East All-Stars     SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Orion              25    25    0  1.000
Wampler            16    11    5  0.688
 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
07:20  ASE  Hart PP (Smyth, Sweet)
16:54  ASE  Manning (Buchanan, Hart)
18:30  ASE  Valentine (Sanchez, Alexander)

PENALTIES:
06:20  ASW  Kronstein 2:00 (Cross-checking)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
08:00  ASW  Koons 2:00 (Interference)
12:41  ASE  Sanchez 2:00 (Tripping)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
04:32  ASW  Airston (Kronstein, Madison)
09:28  ASW  Karlsson (Koons, Barnes)
11:41  ASE  Valentine (Sanchez, Milton)
14:53  ASW  Chamberlain (Poulin, Lambert)
17:29  ASW  Barnes (Karlsson, Lunsford)
19:50  ASW  Chamberlain (Mudrick, Marlow)

PENALTIES:
05:30  ASW  Lunsford 2:00 (Roughing)
06:25  ASW  Chamberlain 2:00 (Delay of Game)
11:54  ASW  Mudrick 2:00 (Interference)


 
SHOTS
------
                  1   2   3   OT   F
West All-Stars   12  13  16       41
East All-Stars   14  11  20       45

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

West All-Stars 0 for 1
East All-Stars 1 for 5

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Western All-Star Rosters

The rosters for the Western Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by Michigan coach Ron Wright, are as follows:

First Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, DakotaAirston prevailed in the closest competition in All-Star voting, edging out Anchorage’s Jerry Koons by less than 1,500 votes.  The noted bunny enthusiast is one of the league’s top scorers, turning in 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) so far on the season.

D: “Mad Max” Madison, MichiganThe Gray Wolves are the SHL’s #1 defensive squad by a healthy margin, so it’s no surprise that Michigan’s defenders dominated the voting.  Madison is the best-known and most colorful of the bunch; as a result, he was the West’s top vote-getter at the position.  He’s contributed on both ends, with 15 points and a +16 rating.  He is also tied for the SHL lead in penalty minutes, with 60.

C: Jake Frost, AnchorageUnlike the East, voting for center in the West wasn’t close in the least; Frost garnered nearly twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.  His commanding margin is a testament to his excellent play; Frost’s 23 goals is tied for the SHL lead.  He is also among the league leaders in plus-minus rating, at +18.

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan. Kronstein is the less colorful half of the Wolves’ top defensive pairing, but he’s an even more impressive two-way player. The German-born blueliner has put up 24 points so far this season to go with his +17 rating. Unlike Madison, he plays a heavy defense without racking up heavy penalty minutes (only 19 on the season).

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. There are a number of high-scoring right wingers in the West, but Ericsson earned the nod for his exceptional passing skills.  He has put up 40 assists on the season, eight more than anyone else in the league to date.  “There’s only going to be one puck on the ice,” said Wright, “so I’m glad my top line isn’t stacked with shooters.

 

Second Line

LW: Jerry Koons, Anchorage. Koons narrowly lost the popular vote to Airston, but his statistics suggest that he is the superior choice.  He’s tied for the league lead in goals (23) and is the sole leader in points (44).  He is also in the top five league-wide in plus-minus rating (+18).

D: Wyatt Barnes, SaskatchewanIn a tough season for the Shockers, Barnes has been a standout.  Advanced metrics suggest point to him as one of the West’s best defenders, and he’s been one of Saskatchewan’s offensive leaders as well, amassing 30 points through the first half of the season.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota. Karlsson does not have a strong defensive reputation, which would ordinarily make him anathema to Wright.  But at a weak position in the division, his offensive stats are too compelling too ignore.  His 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) is good for fourth in the SHL.

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. Wright has described Keefe as “the opposing player I’d most like to have,” so it’s hardly shocking that he wound up on the Western squad.  Keefe is a two-fisted defenseman who’s not afraid to throw a hard check or win puck battles along the boards, and he pulls his own weight on offense (32 points) as well.

RW: Gordon Lunsford, Michigan. Wright tapped a familiar face to finish out his second line.  Lunsford is a balanced contributor on offense, putting up 12 goals and 12 assists in the first half.  His +16 rating speaks to his comfort on both ends of the ice.

 

Third Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, Saskatchewan. Chamberlain joins Barnes as the only representatives of the Shockers on the All-Star team.  The sharp-shooting winger is Saskatchewan’s top point producer on the season, with 32 (13 goals, 19 assists).  He also has a reputation for heads-up play on defense, making him an attractive choice for Wright.

D: Frank Mudrick, Michigan. “I would have taken all of our D-men if I could have,” said Wright.  But in the end, Mudrick got the call over rookie Brooks Zabielski as part of the third pairing.  Mudrick may be the most physical of the Wolves’ blue-line corps, but he also provides some firepower on offense as well, with 13 points on the season.

C: Warren Marlow, Michigan. Wright’s initial nod went to Hunter Bailes, but with the Wolves’ captain out with an injury, Wright turned to the man who has replaced him on the top line.  Marlow’s selection was somewhat controversial, as his offensive numbers (9 goals, 9 assists) are less impressive than others such as Anchorage’s Nile Bernard and Derek Humplik, Dakota’s Mike Rivera, and Saskatchewan’s Napoleon Beasley. But Marlow has a stronger defensive reputation than any of the others, and that factored into Wright’s considerations.

D: Benny Lambert, SeattleThe sophomore blueliner is the Sailors’ lone representative in the All-Star Game.  Lambert is well-known around the league as a tenacious and hard-hitting defender, and he’s also strong in setting up goals, with 17 assists so far this season. “He’s a guy I would have taken regardless of whether or not I had to pick a Seattle player,” said Wright.

RW: Benoit Poulin, Michigan. Wright tapped another of his own players in another controversial choice, leaving such quality scorers as Seattle’s Vince Mango and Dakota’s Arkady Golynin off the squad.  Poulin is a decent scorer, having tallied 11 goals on the season, but again it was the defensive skills that Wright was after.  “Big goal totals are sexy,” the coach said, “but that’s not how we got to be SHL champions.  I want to recognize those underrated skills as well.”

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan. Lundquist was the clear choice to start in net for the West, and the vote reflected that; he received over 65% of the votes at the position.  He was the top overall vote-getter at any position.  The lusciously-bearded goalie dominates every statistical category: wins (16), goals against average (1.19), save percentage (.961).

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. Wright said that the backup netminder position was a tough call between Worthington and Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.  In the end, the Wolves coach tabbed his Igloos rival.  Worthington has struggled with injuries this season, but when he has played, he’s been excellent: 10-4-4, 2.23 GAA, .927 save percentage.

Eastern All-Star Rosters

The roster for the Eastern Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by coach Rodney Reagle, are as follows:

First Line

LW: Steven Alexander, HamiltonThe young, scrappy, and hungry winger has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the beginning.  This year, Alexander is tied for the league lead in goals with 23.  “I am not throwing away my shot,” Alexander told reporters, confirming that he will play.

D: Reese Milton, HersheyThe 25-year-old blueliner is one of the SHL’s best two-way threats, contributing solidly on offense (7 goals, 24 assists) and providing lock-down defense that has helped propel the Bliss to the top of the division. “For once, Reese will be on my side, instead of kicking my butt,” said Reagle.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Valentine was the top overall vote-getter among Eastern All-Stars.  He needed them all, as this was one of the most competitive positions.  Valentine withstood a determined charge from New York’s Brock Manning, Hamilton’s Calvin Frye, and Washington’s Eddie Costello.  Valentine is tied for the league lead in goals (23) and is in the top five in points (39).

D: Dominic Sanchez, New YorkSanchez was the beneficiary of a late surge in voting from the New York area, allowing him to surpass Hamilton’s Raymond Smyth to claim a starting spot. Sanchez is one of the league’s top offensive defenseman, and he has put up 30 points (6 goals, 24 assists) for the Night so far this season.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, WashingtonMcNeely withstood a late charge from New York’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson to win this starting spot by less than 5,000 votes.  The winger is having a bit of a down season, but he is still among Washington’s top scorers with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).  When reporters called McNeely to get his reaction to being selected, they discovered that he had not yet learned he had been chosen.  “What’d I miss?” McNeely said.

 

Second Line

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey. Sweet is a member of Hershey’s well-known “Love Line,” among the top-scoring lines in the SHL.  Sweet has more than held up his end of the bargain, putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) on the season so far. He is just outside the league’s top 10 in both points and assists.

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. Smyth lost out on a starting spot to Dominic Sanchez in the final days of voting, but Reagle wasted no time tapping him as a reserve.  Smyth has the numbers to back up his case: he has the most points (38) of any defenseman in the league, and he has an excellent defensive reputation as well.

C: Brock Manning, New York. Manning fell short to Valentine  in the voting for the hotly-contested center position, but he was selected by Reagle as a reserve.  Manning has long been one of the SHL’s top scorers, and this season is no exception; his 21 goals puts him in the league’s top five.  As the Night have improved in recent weeks, Manning has led the way, scoring 10 goals in the last two weeks.

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington. Buchanan was one of three Galaxy players that Reagle named to the Eastern squad.  He is the top point-scorer among Washington’s defensive corps with 18, but he is known primarily as a stay-home defender.  “I was afraid of what Kevin would do to me if I didn’t pick him,” said Reagle.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his linemate Sweet among the Eastern reserves.  He is among the top 10 in the league in points with 36 (10 goals, 26 assists).  “Glad to see the Love Line representing!” Hart said.  “We’re going to tear it up out there.”

 

Third Line

LW: Casey Thurman, Washington. Thurman is having a bit of a down year by his standards, but he remains the Galaxy’s leader in goals scored (with 14), which is good enough to put him in the top 10 in the league.  “I had to talk Casey into it a little,” said Reagle.  “He didn’t think he deserved it, but I convinced him that he did.”

D: Ward Jones, QuebecJones will be the Tigres’ only All-Star representative, as Riki Tiktuunen will miss the game due to injury.  Jones is one of the key contributors to the Tigres’ largely anonymous but second-ranked defense.  He has been a stalwart on Quebec’s top line, producing 3 goals and 3 assists while providing rugged defense.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. Frye was not voted in as a starter despite being in the top ten in the league in both goals (14) and assists (28).  Frye was named SHL Rookie of the Year last season, and he shows no signs of dropping off in his sophomore campaign, on pace for a 25-point improvement from his rookie point total.

D: Grant Warriner, Washington. The Galaxy’s second-year blueliner is proving his worth as a two-way contributor.  He has thrived beside free-agent signing Patrick Banks in Washington’s second pairing, putting up 17 points to go with a +10 rating.  “I didn’t want to pick too many of my own guys,” said Reagle, “but I look at the numbers until my eyes crossed, and I didn’t see anyone who was more deserving.”

RW: Ivan Trujwirnek, New York. The second-year winger known affectionately as “Trainwreck” has been a consistent contributor on a struggling Night team.  His rugged, hard-working play quickly earned the notice of coach Nick Foster, who wound up promoting him from the third line up to the top line.  He has continued to produce even with the promotion, putting up 8 goals and 11 assists.

 

Goaltenders

Roger Orion, Washington. The Galaxy have been a defense-first team this season, and Orion has been a key piece of the equation. He is among the top 5 in the league in wins (9), GAA (2.50), and save percentage (.922).  He was voted the starter by over 10,000 votes more than his closest competitor.

Dennis Wampler, Hamilton. Orion originally named Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen as the backup netminder, but the sophomore star was injured in Friday’s loss to Dakota.  Pistols rookie Lasse Koskinen was another possibility, but he was also injured this week and therefore unavailable.  So Reagle turned to Koskinen’s backup, Wampler.  The second-year man has been strong, going 6-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

SHL to Hold First All-Star Game

The SHL continues to grow and mature.  This season, the league is taking another step forward by holding an All-Star Game.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for some time now,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “We’ve wanted to have a showcase to highlight our best players, and to give our fans a chance to cast their vote on who our best players are.”

The All-Star format pits the Eastern Division against the Western Division.  Over the last several weeks, SHL fans have had a chance to vote for their choices for the top line positions and starting goaltender for each division.  The remaining lines and the backup netminder were selected by the coaches for each team, Michigan’s Ron Wright for the West and Washington’s Rodney Reagle for the East.

The game will take place on Friday at Washington’s Constellation Center.  The rosters will be announced shortly.

At Reagle’s urging, the coaches have made a side bet on the outcome of the contest.  If the East prevails, Wright will send Reagle a case of Vernor’s ginger ale, a noted product of Michigan.  If the West wins, Reagle will send Wright six cans of Senate bean soup.  “I wanted to send him some Ben’s half smokes,” said Reagle, “but it turns out they don’t ship well.”