SPOTLIGHT: AHL ALL-STAR GAME

Bruce BerletBY: Bruce Berlet

The Eastern Conference lost a four-goal lead and a shootout in the AHL All-Star Game on Monday night that had a definite Connecticut Whale flavor.

Rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault scored on his first shift of the game and had a goal and two assists in the first period with teammate and linemate Mats Zuccarello before the Western Conference rallied for an 8-7 victory before 6,113 at historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.

Audy-Marchessault, one of the few undrafted players among the AHL’s elite, scored only 2:06 into the game and set up Zuccarello for a breakaway goal late in the first period as the Eastern Conference took a 6-2 lead after 20 minutes.

But the Western Conference scored five of the last six goals, and T.J. Hensick of the Peoria Rivermen and the Texas Stars’ Matt Fraser scored in the shootout as the Rivermen’s goalie Ben Bishop stopped the four shots he faced to earn MVP honors a night after he earned the top goaltender award in the skills competition.

Audy-Marchessault scored on the game’s second shift, converting a rebound of a shot by the Portland Pirates’ Andy Miele off a pass from Zuccarello. Springfield Falcons rookie right wing Cam Atkinson, a Greenwich native and former standout at Avon Old Farms and Boston College, assisted on a goal by Kyle Palmieri of the Norfolk Admirals for a 2-0 lead at 3:22. After the Western Conference rallied to get even at 2, Bridgeport Sound Tigers wing Casey Cizikas, the youngest All-Star at 20, broke the tie at 10:32 before Zuccarello and Audy-Marchessault assisted on a goal by Miele, the 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner at Miami of Ohio, for a 4-2 lead 26 seconds later.

Colin McDonald, the leading scorer of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and son of former Hartford Whalers defenseman and announcer Colin McDonald, set up the Norfolk Admirals’ Cory Conacher, the AHL’s leading rookie scorer with 25 goals, for a 5-2 lead with 5:50 left in the first period, then Zuccarello took a lead pass from Audy-Marchessault, broke in alone and slipped the puck between the legs of beleaguered Matt Hackett to make it 6-2 with 3:18 to go. Hackett, of the Houston Aeros, allowed six goals on 13 shots in the first period, while the Western Conference had 11 shots on Michael Leighton of the Adirondack Phantoms.

After the Western Conference got to 6-3 on Chris Terry’s goal at 2:41 of the second period, Oklahoma City Barons goalie Yann Danis made big saves on Zuccarello and Audy-Marchessault to keep his team in it. Tyson Barrie of the Lake Erie Monsters and the Toronto Marlies’ Ryan Hamilton scored in the final 2:32 of the second period, and Danis stopped all 11 shots he faced as the Western Conference got within 6-5 entering the final 20 minutes. The Manchester Monarchs’ Jeff Zatkoff was 17-for-20 in net for the Eastern Conference in the second period.

The Worcester Sharks’ Tyson Sexsmith stopped Fraser’s breakaway 4:46 into third period to keep the Eastern Conference ahead, then Bishop robbed Audy-Marchessault with a right pad save on the ensuing rush. Then at 8:46, Sexsmith stopped another breakaway by the Abbotsford Heat’s Krys Kolanos.

Only 70 seconds later, Conacher, who has overcome Type A diabetes that he contracted at 8 years old, took a pass from the Admirals’ Trevor Smith and jammed a shot past Bishop for his second goal of the game and a 7-5 lead for with 9:56 left. Bishop made an alert glove save on Audy-Marchessault with 9:09 to go, then Hensick took a pass from South Windsor native and Houston Aeros captain Jon DiSalvatore and got the Western Conference to 7-6 when a bad-angle shot deflected in off the stick of St. John’s IceCaps defenseman Paul Postma with 7:55 left.

The Western Conference completed their comeback when Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton, who won the hardest shot contest in the skills competition Sunday night at 99.4 mph, broke in and beat Sexsmith to the glove side with 4:07 left. Bishop stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced in the third period and the four in the shootout.

Former Hartford Wolf Pack center Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators, making a record-tying sixth All-Star appearance, and former Wolf Pack left wing and Eastern Conference captain Boyd Kane of the Hershey Bears failed to get on the score sheet.

Earlier in the day, former Whalers defenseman John Stevens, Joe Crozier, Jack Gordon and Zellio Toppazzini were inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame, with a list of all the members available at www.ahlhalloffame.com. Stevens represented the group when he dropped the ceremonial first puck for the All-Star Game between Kane and Western Conference captain Darren Haydar of the Chicago Wolves.

Stevens, 45, is a former head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers who was named interim Los Angeles head coach Dec. 13, replacing fired Terry Murray, and then succeeded by Darryl Sittler a week later after guiding the Kings to a 2-2 record on a four-game road trip. Stevens’ 14-year playing career, which was cut short by an eye injury, included eight assists in 44 games with the Whalers spanning three seasons. He was a member of the undefeated 1987-88 Calder Cup championship team in Hershey coached by John Paddock, who guided the Wolf Pack to their only AHL title in 2000. Stevens also won a Calder Cup in 1990-91 with the Springfield Indians, but the defenseman is best known for his days with the Philadelphia Phantoms, where he was the team’s first captain in 1996-97, won a Calder Cup in 1997-98 and coached the club for six seasons in 2000-07. He then took over as Flyers coach for 31/2 seasons.

Crozier was a standout coach in several AHL stops who helped lay the foundation for the Rochester Americans franchise; Gordon was a mainstay as an AHL player, coach and manager who won four Calder Cups with the Cleveland Barons; and Toppazzini is considered the greatest player in the history of the Providence Bruins.

In the skills competition Sunday night, won 18-10 by the Western Conference, Audy-Marchessault (13.932) was edged by Brian Connelly (13.851), representing Abbotsford after being acquired by the Calgary Flames on Friday, and Conacher (13.880) in the fastest skater event. Connauton won the hardest shot contest, and Bishop, who leads the AHL with six shutouts, earned the top goaltender award by stopping 16 of 19 shots. Smith and the Barons’ Ryan Keller shared the accuracy shooting event, each hitting four targets in five tries.

GIRARDI NEARLY HAD NHL ALL-STAR SCORE, SETTLES FOR ASSIST

New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who signed a free-agent contract and started his pro career with the Hartford Wolf Pack, did a blog for NHL.com during his first time as an NHL All-Star, where he was the only player not drafted. Here’s Girardi’s final blog entry after his Team (Daniel) Alfredsson side lost 12-9 to Team (Zdeno) Chara on Sunday in Ottawa:

“For a second there, I thought I had a goal in an All-Star Game. I took a pass from Milan Michalek and let a shot go. I knew it hit something on the way to the net, but I wasn’t sure at first. But when Jason Spezza came over to me to celebrate and had a sheepish, apologetic look on his face, I knew it wasn’t going to be my goal. I was just laughing about it with him. It would’ve been cool to get a goal but to pick a point in an All-Star Game is pretty cool too.

“To be in an All-Star Game as a defensive defenseman, it was unbelievable. Going from the draft to a really busy media day to skills yesterday and the game today, it was a lot of fun. The game was the best part of the weekend. Playing with all these guys, that was the highlight. Having my family here to see me play, that was special too.

“I only got about 3 minutes of ice time during the second period. Torts (Rangers coach John Tortorella) said he wasn’t going to play me if he was my coach, but I think it was more about the fact some guys were taking some really long shifts. I didn’t care. I just went out there, played my shift, and I was happy. When my turn came up again, I just wanted to do my best. We weren’t worried about getting ice time or anything like that. It was complete and total fun.

“I have to rush out really quick tonight because the family and I are flying home to New York. My wife and son are coming back with some other family who are staying over with us. I had a great time this weekend.”

The Rangers (31-12-4), who lead the Eastern Conference and are second overall to the Detroit Red Wings (33-16-1) with three games in hand, resume play Tuesday night at the New Jersey Devils.

GERNANDER, LEETCH AMONG SEVEN NEW HALL OF FAME MEMBERS

Whale coach Ken Gernander and Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, a Cheshire native who spent most of his 16-year NHL career with the Rangers, are among the seven newly selected members of the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame announced during the third period of the Whale’s 2-1 home loss to Springfield Saturday night.

Others to be honored on “Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame Night” on March 10 when the Norfolk Admirals are at the XL Center are former Whalers goalie Mike Liut and right wings Blaine Stoughton and Pat Verbeek, three-time Olympian and all-time NCAA women’s leading scorer Julie Chu, a Fairfield native, and William E. Barnes, one of the founders of the New England Whalers. Barnes was involved in numerous charitable organizations before he died in 2006.

“It’s nice to be recognized, and it’s a little different that some of those players are NHL guys,” said Gernander, whose No. 12 is the only number in Wolf Pack/Whale history to be retired to the XL Center rafters. “But you’re looking at hockey in Hartford and Connecticut, and this community is near and dear to my heart.”

On her Twitter account, Chu, who plays for the Montreal Stars in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said, “Greatly honored to be a part of the 2012 CT Hockey Hall of Fame class. What a privilege.”

The Class of 2012, the first inductees since 1990, will join the eight members of the storied Hartford Whalers Hall of Fame that have been adopted by the Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame. The seven new members will be inducted before the game against the Admirals and will be recognized during the first intermission.

Fans will receive a special souvenir of the night as 5,000 Hall of Fame posters will be given away, courtesy of SuperCuts. There also will be a special meet-and-greet event that night with details to be announced soon. For more information, visit www.cthockeyHOF.org. … College students can get discounted tickets to weekday Whale games with the “Ditch the Dorms” deal. For Monday through Friday games, students who show a valid student ID at the Public Power Ticket office at the XL Center can get $2 off upper-level tickets and $5 off lower-level seats.

OFFICIAL SCORE SHEET

Western Conference AHL All-Stars 8 (SO) at Eastern Conference AHL All-Stars 7 – Status: Final SO
Monday, January 30, 2012 – Boardwalk Hall

Western Conference 2 3 2 – 8
Eastern Conference 6 0 1 – 7

1st Period-1, Eastern Conference, Audy-Marchessault 1 (Zuccarello, Miele), 2:06. 2, Eastern Conference, Palmieri 1 (Atkinson), 3:22. 3, Western Conference, Terry 1 (Hensick), 6:19. 4, Western Conference, Haydar 1 (Fairchild, Fraser), 8:53. 5, Eastern Conference, Cizikas 1 (Barberio, Conacher), 10:32. 6, Eastern Conference, Miele 1 (Zuccarello, Audy-Marchessault), 10:58. 7, Eastern Conference, Conacher 1 (McDonald), 14:10. 8, Eastern Conference, Zuccarello 1 (Audy-Marchessault), 16:42. Penalties-No Penalties

2nd Period-9, Western Conference, Terry 2 (Kolanos), 2:41. 10, Western Conference, Barrie 1 (Pirri, Robak), 17:28. 11, Western Conference, Hamilton 1 (Nyquist), 18:11. Penalties-No Penalties

3rd Period-12, Eastern Conference, Conacher 2 (Smith, Urbom), 9:56. 13, Western Conference, Hensick 1 (DiSalvatore), 12:05. 14, Western Conference, Connauton 1 (Connelly, Terry), 15:53. Penalties-No Penalties

Shootout – Western Conference 2 (Hensick G, Kolanos NG, Fraser G, Cornet NG), Eastern Conference 0 (Palmieri NG, Conacher NG, Aucoin NG, McDonald NG).
Shots on Goal-Western Conference 11-20-11-1-43. Eastern Conference 13-11-11-0-35.
Power Play Opportunities-Western Conference 0 / 0; Eastern Conference 0 / 0.
Goalies-Western Conference, Hackett 0-0-0 (13 shots-7 saves); Danis 0-0-0 (11 shots-11 saves); Bishop 1-0-0 (11 shots-10 saves). Eastern Conference, Leighton 0-0-0 (11 shots-9 saves); Zatkoff 0-0-0 (20 shots-17 saves); Sexsmith 0-0-1 (11 shots-9 saves).
A-6,113
Referees-Francis Charron (46), Chris Cozzan (18).
Linesmen-Scott Adams (20), Bob Fyrer (72).

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