The rosters for the Eastern Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber, were as follows:
LW: Casey Thurman, Washington. Last season, Thurman had to be talked into accepting his All-Star nod, due to the fact that he was having an off season by his standards. 2018 is a different story; he’s off to a tremendous start, and when he was voted in as the East’s starting left winger (by about 800 votes over Hamilton’s Steven Alexander), nobody had to persuade him to accept the honor. Thurman is third in the league in points with 50, and he’s in the top five in goals (21) and assists (29).
D: Reese Milton, Hershey. Although the Bliss’ attempt to defend their surprise 2017 title have been fairly disastrous, it didn’t stop the fans from voting Milton into the starting lineup. The blueliner, a well-known squirrel lover, is a bit off of his usual offensive pace, but he’s still putting up decent numbers (5 goals, 15 assists). In addition, he continues to produce the kind of steady, lock-down defense that has made him one of the league’s top blue-liners.
C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. With the Pistols tied for the league’s best record at the halfway point of the season, the fans in Hamilton are responding. Attendance at Gunpowder Armory is up 22% this season, and the league has received 27% more All-Star votes from the Hamilton area than they did in 2017. Given the fired-up fan base, it’s no surprise that Frye was voted in as the East’s starting center. The rising star is establishing himself as one of the SHL’s top forwards. He’s second in the league with 51 points, and his 24 goals is good for third place in the SHL. In addition, his +27 rating is tied with his linemates for the tops in the league.
D: Dominic Sanchez, New York. The 28-year-old is arguably the league’s best offensive defenseman, and bolstered by a strong backing from the New York area, he was voted to his second straight starting berth, again narrowly beating out Raymond Smyth of Hamilton. Sanchez has 29 assists on the season, which places him in the SHL’s top five, to go with a team-best +10 rating. His excellent performance earned him Player of the Week honors this season for the first time.
RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington. The strong voting contingent from Hamilton nearly elevated Claude Lafayette into this spot, but in the end, McNeely’s exceptional season could not be denied, and he won the position for the second straight year by approximately 3,500 votes. The Galaxy winger leads the league with 56 points, and is tied for the league lead in goals with 29. “My home sweet home, DC, I wanna give you a kiss,” said McNeely as he celebrated the honor.
LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton. Alexander was offended when he missed out on the starting spot, so much so that he nearly decided to boycott the game entirely. Alexander certainly had a strong case for starting: he’s tied for the league lead in goals with 29, and he’s also tied for the lead in plus-minus at +27. The winger was also upset that his best friend and Pistols teammate, Claude Lafayette, was not selected to the game. But Lafayette convinced Alexander to participate, and the fiery scorer vowed to lift the East to victory. “When our children tell our story,” Alexander vowed, “they’ll tell the story of tonight.”
D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. In a repeat of last season, Smuth narrowly missed out on a starting slot. but was immediately named to the squad as the top coach’s choice. “Everybody in the East has had a chance to see Raymond work,” said Barber. “We’ve all been burned by him at some point or another.” Smyth remains one of the league’s best-regarded two-way defensemen. He has 27 assists on the season, second-highest among SHL blueliners, while also providing the rugged, hard-hitting defense that is his trademark.
C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Last season, Valentine was voted onto the team as a starter. This season, he needed Barber to name him to the Eastern squad. Fortunately, the Bliss coach described Valentine as “a no-brainer choice. We’re not having the kind of year we expected, but Justin’s still an All-Star in my book.” Although the center is having a bit of an underwhelming year, he is tied for the team lead in goals (12) and points (33).
D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington. This wasn’t a popular choice among Bliss fans, as Buchanan has been a frequent target of boos at Chocolate Center for his vicious hits and his habit of taunting the Bliss as “soft” in postgame interviews. Still, Barber didn’t hesitate to select him, noting that “this is the All-Star game, not the Miss Congeniality Awards. Kevin’s one of those games that you hate when he’s on the other team, but you love when he’s on your side.” Buchanan is having a surprisingly strong season on offense (5 goals, 23 assists), but it’s his hard hits and smothering defense that fans love — or love to hate.
RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his fellow “Love Line” member Valentine on the East’s second line. Alexander was not alone in believing that Lafayette should have received this slot instead, but Barber said that “Chris is still getting the job done, even if the team is struggling right now.” Hart is the Bliss’ assist leader with 23, and he’s tied with Valentine for the highest point total with 33.
LW: Lix Darnholm, Boston. Unsurprisingly, Darnholm is the sole representative for the expansion Badgers on the Eastern roster. The 19-year-old Swedish-born winger is one of the few bright spots for Boston on offense. He has scored 13 goals so far this season, which is tied with Kansas City’s Noel Picard for the second-highest total among expansion players. His 28 points is also the second-highest among expansion clubs; only the Smoke’s Royal, a fellow All-Star, has a higher point total.
D: Laurie Workman, Quebec. The Tigres have the second-best record in the East, so it’s something of a surprise that none of their players can be found on the top two lines. Quebec is nonetheless well represented, with four All-Stars, including three on the bottom line. Barber said this was by design: “I figured teammates would prefer to play together.” The rookie Workman is the only Tigres defender on the team. He is having a strong debut season, with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) and a +10 rating to go along with stout defense.
C: Mikhail Ilyushin, Quebec. The 28-year-old Ilyushin makes his first All-Star team this season. The Tigres have undergone an offensive renaissance this season, with their top line leading the way. Ilyushin, who centers that top line, has been a key part of that production. He is second on the team with 34 points on the season, including 12 goals and 22 assists, and he is tied for the team lead with a +13 rating.
D: Jack “Hercules” Mulligan, Hamilton. Mulligan celebrates his second season in the SHL with his first trip to the All-Star game. A first-round draft pick in 2017, Mulligan is living up to his advance billing with the Pistols. He’s best known for his fearlessness and his devastating checks, which have become a regular feature of YouTube clips and highlight videos. He contributes on the offensive end as well, having registered 18 assists so far this season to go with a +11 rating.
RW: Stephane Mirac, Quebec. Mirac joins teammates Ilyushin and Workman on the East’s third line. The Tigres star makes his first All-Star appearance. In 2017, Mirac was in the grip of a sophomore slump; this time around, he’s rediscovered the form that caused Quebec fans to nickname him “Stephane Miracle.” He has scored 16 goals this season, which ranks among the SHL’s top ten, and is a steady and diligent presence on defense.
Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton. The strong voting presence from southern Ontario helped Koskinen get over the hump and get the start in his first All-Star appearance. “I am very honored to have this opportunity, and the recognition for all of my hard work.” Koskinen’s excellent work has been a key factor in the Pistols’ early success; his .933 save percentage is the league’s best, and he is tied with Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist for the SHL lead with 18 wins.
Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec. Tiktuunen was selected to attend the All-Star Game last season, but he had to bow out due to an injury. This time, the Finnish netminder is healthy and able to appear in the game. Tiktuunen has the second-best save percentage in the league, stopping pucks at a .930 clip; only Koskinen has a better percentage. Tiktuunen’s 17-7-0 record and 1.99 GAA testify to his tremendous work in the crease and the success that the Tigres are having this season.