Congratulations to Connecticut Whale forwards Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Mats Zuccarello on being named Wednesday to the Eastern Conference team for the AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 29-30 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Audy-Marchessault, a rookie who has performed well at center and wing after originally being signed for Greenville of the ECHL, is second on the Northeast Division-leading Whale in scoring with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) despite going pointless in his first five pro games. He’s one point behind veteran center Kris Newbury (13 goals, 18 assists), who has missed five games while with the parent New York Rangers and four because of a suspension.
On his Twitter account, Audy-Marchessault said (in French and English): “Very proud to represent CTWhale and New York Rangers organizations at the next AHL All-Star Classic.”
Zuccarello, in his second pro season in North America, is tied for third on the team in scoring with right wing Andre Deveaux with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) despite missing the Whale’s first four games while with the Rangers and the last 10 games after being injured in a 3-2 loss at Providence on Dec. 11. Coach Ken Gernander said Zuccarello resumed skating on his own last Wednesday and practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday.
“I can’t put a timeline on his return,” said Gernander, who “certainly hopes” it’s before the All-Star Classic. “It’s a tricky injury, and he’s doing all he can to get back into the lineup, but we certainly don’t want to put him at risk of being out for any further length of time than necessary. He’s got to be comfortable that he can perform to his satisfaction, not just from an offensive standpoint but to be able to defend himself and not be a target out there.”
The Eastern and Western Conference teams each have 24 players (three goalies, eight defensemen and 13 forwards), and they include 34 first-time AHL All-Stars, 13 rookies and 20 players who have already skated in the NHL this season.
“I think we have several other good candidates, and unfortunately they can’t all be on the All-Star team,” said Gernander, a three-time All-Star, including the winning captain in 1999. “We’re proud of our two representatives. Zuccarello, when he was healthy, is obviously a very dynamic player, a very exciting player, and a key part of our team offense. And Audy-Marchessault has obviously been a very pleasant surprise for us the way he has performed all season. He continues to put up points as a rookie and is having a very good season.
“There are arguments to be made for other players, but unfortunately 30 teams can’t send four or five representatives. I’m sure there are other teams in same position, that they’re having a strong season and have some guys who are really doing a good job. While there are some other players who are among the league’s best players and could represent our club as well, we’re very proud of the two that we are sending and wish them the best of luck in the big game.
“It’s tough (selecting) because of quotas and each team having to be represented, but for us to get two players was nice. I’ll reiterate that there are guys on our team who are having strong seasons and unfortunately there’s just not room for everybody. But their coaching staff and our organization certainly recognize all the contributions they’ve made and the work that they bring to our club.”
Audy-Marchessault and Zuccarello will be coached by Keith McCambridge of the first-year St. John’s IceCaps, the new affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, who had the best record in the Eastern Conference (19-8-4-1, .672) at the Sunday night deadline. Todd Nelson of the Oklahoma City Barons (22-8-1-3, .706), the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, will coach the Western Conference. The AHL will name assistant coaches for both teams.
Fan balloting for the All-Star starters begins Thursday and runs through noon on Jan. 23 at www.theahl.com and Facebook.com/theahl. By completing the official ballot, fans also will be entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed All-Star jersey. Five more winners will receive two tickets to the All-Star skills competition and All-Star Game.
The Eastern Conference All-Stars also include Wethersfield native and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton right wing Colin McDonald, the son of former Hartford Whalers defenseman Gerry McDonald whose 42 goals last season led the AHL while he was with Oklahoma City; Greenwich native and former Avon Old Farms and Boston College standout right wing Cam Atkinson, a rookie with the Springfield Falcons; former Hartford Wolf Pack center and reigning AHL MVP Corey Locke, who missed the first 20 games of the season with the Binghamton Senators because of a hand injury; and former Wolf Pack left wing Boyd Kane of the Hershey Bears, named the captain of the team for his long and distinguished career.
Other Eastern Conference All-Stars are goalies Michael Leighton (Adirondack), Tyson Sexsmith (Worcester) and Jeff Zatkoff (Manchester); defensemen Mark Barberio (Norfolk), Calvin de Haan (Bridgeport), Simon Despres (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Thomas Hickey (Manchester), Matt Irwin (Worcester), Paul Postma (St. John’s), Zach Redmond (St. John’s) and Matt Taormina (Albany); and forwards Andy Miele (Portland), Kyle Palmieri (Syracuse), Trevor Smith (Norfolk), Carter Camper (Providence), Cory Conacher (Norfolk) and the AHL’s two scoring leaders from Hershey, Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque, older brother of Whale rookie wing Ryan Bourque.
The Western Conference team includes South Windsor native Jon DiSalvatore, a right wing with the Houston Aeros. Other Western Conference players are goalies Yann Danis (Oklahoma City), Cedrick Desjardins (Lake Erie) and Matt Hackett (Houston); defensemen Kevin Connauton (Chicago), Ryan Ellis (Milwaukee), Cade Fairchild (Peoria), Brayden McNabb (Rochester), Alex Plante (Oklahoma City), Colby Robak (San Antonio), Frederic St. Denis (Hamilton) and Clay Wilson (Abbotsford); and forwards Joe Colborne (Toronto), Philippe Cornet (Oklahoma City), Matt Fraser (Texas), T.J. Hensick (Peoria), Nazem Kadri (Toronto), Krys Kolanos (Abbotsford), Jon Matsumoto (Charlotte), Chris Mueller (Milwaukee), Gustav Nyqvist (Grand Rapids), Brandon Pirri (Rockford), Jerome Samson (Charlotte) and captain Darren Haydar (Chicago).
Atkinson, Miele, Fairchild and Nyqvist have played in the NHL this season. Aucoin and Locke will tie an AHL record with their sixth career All-Star appearances.
Former Whalers defenseman John Stevens is among four selected for induction into the AHL Hall of Fame as the Class of 2012. Others to be recognized Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. at the AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony at the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesars Atlantic City in New Jersey are Joe Crozier, Jack Gordon and Zellio Toppazzini. Formed in 2006 to recognize, honor and celebrate individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions in the AHL, the Hall of Fame is housed on-line at www.ahlhalloffame.com.
Hockey Hall of Famers and Philadelphia Flyers legends Bill Barber and Bob Clarke are the All-Star Game honorary captains and will stand on the team benches during the skills competition and All-Star Game and be recognized at the AHL Hall of Fame inductions and awards ceremony.
The All-Star Classic will begin with the skills competition Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. The All-Star Game is Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. Tickets, which include admission to the skills competition and game, are $52 for seats on the glass, $37 for lower-level seats and $32 for upper-level seats. Tickets are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 800-736-1420 and at www.ticketmaster.com. For group orders, call 609-348-7021.
Caesars Atlantic City will host the post-skills party and Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony. The post-skills party will start at 5:30 p.m., with $35 tickets including a chance to meet and mingle with the players and get an autograph or photo, complimentary beverages, interactive game stations, music and more. Tickets for the induction and awards ceremony are $20 and include a commemorative program. Tickets for the two hospitality events are on sale at the Boardwalk Hall box office and all Ticketmaster locations or by calling 1-800-736-1420 or www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets are limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Special hotel rates are available at Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City for Sunday and Monday nights. To reserve rooms at Caesars ($49 for Jan. 29 and Jan. 30) or Bally’s ($35 each night), call 888-516-2215 and mention code PAHL. Both properties are on the Boardwalk and less than a 10-minute walk to Boardwalk Hall. To inquire about promotional opportunities for youth hockey groups in association with the event or about game sponsorships and advertising, call 609-348-7022. For destination information about Atlantic City, visit www.atlanticcitynj.com.