The roster for the Western Division in the 2020 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Wednesday at Kansas City’s Heartland Telecom Center, was announced today by coach Sam Castor. The selections were as follows:
LW: Rod “Money” Argent, Portland. The Bluebacks are hot, and they’re quickly building a strong and enthusiastic fan base. The team’s fans showed their love in the All-Star voting, as they rivaled Hamilton in terms of the largest turnout. Thanks to the strong support from the Rose City, the Bluebacks wound up with three starting slots. Among those is Argent, who will appear in the All-Star game for the first time in his career. The winger is fifth in the league in goals with 18, and has Portland’s second-highest point total with 34. Argent is a strong two-way player, as reflected by the fact that he leads all Bluebacks forwards in blocks with 27.
D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. This marks the first time that a non-Michigan defenseman made the West’s starting lineup. The strong support of Igloos fans allowed Keefe to finish with the most votes among defensemen. Although this is Keefe’s first All-Star start, it is the third time that he’ll make an appearance in the game. Keefe is having a strong year offensively; he is tied for the lead among SHL defenseman in goals with 11. But it’s defense that’s his primary calling card. Any unlucky opponent that’s been the victim of his punishing hits can attest to that; his 50 blocks on the season tell the same story.
C: Eddie Costello, Portland. Last year, the veteran center was traded to Hamilton at the deadline, and went on to play a leading role as the Pistols won their first Vandy. In the offseason, he signed with Portland, and has led the team to its spot atop the standings at the midway mark. Those fans returned the favor by making Costello the top overall vote-getter in the West. (It’s likely that he got support from his former fans in Washington and Hamilton as well.) Costello’s 36 points are tops on his new team, while his 25 assists land him among the SHL’s top ten. He’s no slouch defensively, either, with 26 blocks so far this season.
D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan. Kronstein continues his streak of All-Star starts, finishing ahead of teammates “Mad Max” Madison (a three-time starter) and Brooks Zabielski, as well as Portland’s Benny Lambert. This comes as no surprise, in spite of the Wolves’ disappointing first half; Kronstein has started in every All-Star Game to date. Though Michigan is not performing up to its usual standards, the German-born blueliner continues to produce on both ends, leading the team’s defensive corps with 22 points (including 10 goals, second among Wolves defensemen) and tied for the lead with 59 blocks.
RW: Vince Mango, Portland. The colorful, high-scoring Mango secures his third All-Star berth and his second start, finishing roughly 1,500 votes ahead of Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson. (It’s sweet payback for Mango; last season, Ericsson nosed him out of a starting slot by less than 800 votes.) Mango is often regarded around the league as a one-dimensional scorer. While his 15 goals does place him among the SHL’s top ten, Mango’s game has matured as he and the team have grown. He has recorded 11 assists so far on the year, and he has even blocked 17 shots. “Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when Vince blocked a shot on purpose,” said Castor. “He’d be afraid of mussing his hair. But he’s clearly changed, and good for him.”
LW: Jerry Koons, Anchorage. Last year’s starter makes it this year on the second line, one of four Igloos chosen for the team by their coach. Koons has appeared in every All-Star Game so far and has started twice. Among all Western left-wingers, Koons is the leader in both points (with 37) and assists (with 25). “I’m sure some people will say I’m a big homer because there are so many of our guys on the team,” said Castor. “But you tell me which guy didn’t deserve to go. No question about it that Jerry deserves to be there.”
D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. Barnes, who makes his fourth trip to the All-Star game, is the Shockers’ only representative at the All-Star game this season. But he is no charity pick; arguably, he is the SHL’s best defenseman so far this half on both ends of the ice. Only teammate Chris Oflyng has more points among the West’s blueliners than Barnes’ 29. And no one in the league, in either division or at any position, has more blocks that he does, just one shy of the century mark. “One of these days, the fans are going to wake up and realize that Barnesy should be starting in this thing,” said Oflyng.
C: Hunter Bailes, Michigan. In spite of the Wolves’ underperformance so far this season, Castor couldn’t overlook Bailes’ solid campaign for Anchorage’s longtime rival. Bailes is the Michigan leader in goals (with 14) and points (with 29), and his +14 rating places him within the league’s top ten. Somewhat surprisingly for one of the league’s consistent stars, this is the first time that Bailes will be appearing in the midseason contest. He was named to the team in 2017, but he missed the game due to injury; teammate Warren Marlow skated in his place.
D: Benny Lambert, Portland. The Bluebacks aren’t solely represented by players who were voted in by their enthusiastic fans; Lambert is one of two Portland players chosen by Castor to accompany their starting colleagues. This is not Lambert’s first All-Star appearance; he was Seattle’s lone representative back in the 2017 contest. Lambert’s 71 blocks are tops on the Bluebacks, and his 16 assists are tied for second on the team among blueliners.
RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. After Ericsson narrowly lost the starting spot to Mango, there was little doubt that Castor would add his top-line right winger to the squad. Ericsson is is one of five Western players who has been an All-Star every year. He’s justifiably renowned for his skills as a passer, and he remains as sharp as ever: he’s tied for second in the league in assists with 31. Somewhat more surprisingly, he also has more points than anyone else in the West, with 40.
LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, Dakota. Airston, the Jackalopes’ only representative, appears in his third All-Star game. The fan-favorite winger has been named in rumor after rumor over the last couple of seasons, always supposedly on the verge of being dealt for financial reasons, but he remains in Dakota for the time being, continuing to produce as usual. Airston leads the Jackalopes in goals with 12, and is tied for the team lead in assists with 15. “You have to tune all that stuff out and just play your game,” said Airston. “I think I’ve done a good job with that.”
D: Gary Hermine, Kansas City. In a surprising pick, Castor tabbed the 22-year-old Hermine as a first-time All-Star. The Western coach acknowledged that he gave Hermine the nod in part to give the KC crowd another Smoke player to cheer for. “The fans deserve to see a couple of their own,” Castor said. But Hermine is also on the team on merit; he’s put together a strong first half with 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) and 41 blocks.
C: Tom Hoffman, Anchorage. This pick by Castor definitely raised eyebrows around the league. How could the coach pass over his own top-line center, Jake Frost? How could the star who has started each previous All-Star contest miss the cut entirely? According to Castor, the move came at Frost’s request. “He told me, ‘Hoff’s outplaying me so far. He deserves to go, not me,” said the coach. “Of course, Frosty might have just wanted a few days off for a change.” When the Igloos acquired Hoffman from New York in the offseason, the move was regarded as a cheap flyer at a position of need. To the degree that fans knew Hoffman at all, it was as a draft bust who hadn’t lived up to his potential. But he’s undergone a career revival in baby. He has indeed produced more goals (12) and assists (16) than Frost so far on the year. In addition, he leads the team in plus-minus with a +14 rating.
D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage. This spot originally belonged to Chris Oflyng of Saskatchewan, but the Shockers blueliner suffered an injury a couple games before the break. To replace Oflyng, Castor went with a familiar face, tapping his own man Pomfret. It’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the 25-year-old. Pomfret is on track for a career-best season, putting up 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) and blocking 61 shots to go with his +7 rating.
RW: Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City. The Swedish winger was the #1 pick in the draft, and he has completely lived up to the hype so far amid an otherwise forgettable year for the host city. His 15 goals puts him among the league’s top ten and atop all rookies. Similarly, his 36 points places him on the SHL leaderboard; no other freshman is within a dozen points of him. “I am glad that I will have a chance to enjoy this honor among our fans,” said Frederiksson.
Ty Worthington, Anchorage. For the first time, Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist is not the Western starter. And it’s not a fluke driven by the voters; in fact, Worthington has outplayed the mighty Bear so far this season. His 2.11 GAA is third in the SHL, and his .933 save percentage leads the league. His underlying numbers belie a 13-10-1 record, which speaks more to a lack of offensive support than anything else. “It’s nice to see Ty get the top slot for a change,” said Castor. “He’s earned it.”
Jesse Clarkson, Portland. In another eyebrow-raising move, Castor elected not to pick Lundquist as Worthington’s backup. Instead, the Western coach turned to Clarkson, making him the fifth Blueback to appear on the roster. Clarkson was voted in as the starter of the Eastern team last season, when he played for New York. After signing with Portland in the offseason, Clarkson rebounded from a shaky start to post his typically solid numbers. His 16 victories lead the SHL, and he’s backing them up with a skinny 2.68 GAA and a stout .919 save percentage.