Why NHL Fans Have to Watch Monday Night's AHL All-Star Game

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Why NHL Fans Have to Watch Monday Night's AHL All-Star Game
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Zach Parise as an AHL All-Star in 2005.

Before he was mired in a contract controversy with the Montreal Canadiens, PK Subban joined Logan Couture in boosting their fellow Canadians to a shootout victory in the 2010 AHL All-Star Game.

Before he was the captain of the New York Rangers, Ryan Callahan had his own clutch moment in the minor league midseason classic. As a first-year pro in 2007, he broke a 6-6 tie with a mere 3.3 seconds remaining in regulation to cement the win for PlanetUSA.

The recent history of the AHL All-Star Game bears an even deeper sample of eventual NHL staples and competitive contests. In turn, hockey fans ought to be eager to view Monday night’s 2013 exhibition from the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.

Monday’s matchup, the third between the Eastern and Western Conference since the switch from an international-based format, will be broadcast on NESN and syndicated to virtually every relevant market on the continent.

Three of the last five and four of the last eight AHL All-Star Games have required a shootout to settle. With the 2007 contest decided by Callahan in the waning seconds, five of the last eight have been decided by a single goal.

This year, Sunday night’s skills competition set a tone for another serious arm-wrestling bout. With various events reaping different quantities of points in different fashions, the Western All-Stars did not quit as they trailed through the first six of seven stages, claiming a come-from-behind 12-11 victory.

It reached a point where all 18 skaters on each side had one chance to add to their respective point totals and the East was in an ostensibly comfortable position for a runaway. But in their shifts against six challengers apiece, Western netminders Petr Mrazek and Justin Peters stopped everything.

In between, the West buried four of its last 12 shots to nab four unanswered points and successfully surmount an 11-8 deficit.

Under more savory circumstances, Sunday’s skills contest in the AHL would have been an evening after-party for viewers who had just spent their afternoon watching the NHL All-Star Game from Columbus. For fans still feeling deprived after the latter event was zapped by the lockout, the development circuit is the best resort for a best-of-the-best exhibition fix this year.

Even for those who tend to frown upon the entertainment value of the NHL All-Star Game, the AHL’s version could be a refreshing change of pace.

Granted, not unlike the parent league, the AHL has generally had a swollen goal-fest when assembling and pitting its best skaters. But dating back to 1989, only two of the NHL’s last 20 All-Star Games have gone to overtime or a shootout.

Contrast that with the aforementioned trend in the AHL, wherein these games have started to require bonus action more often than not.

That may not be a coincidence. The unfolding and results of these clashes hint at a collective competitive fire among the AHL’s All-Stars that eclipses that of their NHL counterparts.

That, in turn, may simply owe to the fact that these players still have another level to reach in their careers. Even while it may not count for anything and even while it may yield a higher-than-average goal total, there are few better ways to flex one’s skill set in the minors than to do so against the rest of the best.

Every little bit helps when an aspiring NHL player can flaunt his tangible and intangible aptitude.

It certainly did not hurt Callahan’s case for an eventual promotion when he tallied that dramatic clincher in 2007. Ditto Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightning when his hat trick helped the Canadians to a 9-8 triumph in 2008.

Ditto Couture when he had a goal and a primary assist to bookend Team Canada’s four-goal rally that forced the shootout and set up Subban’s clincher in 2010.

Nor did it hurt any fans who can now claim that they followed those moments as they happened and those players as they performed them.

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