‘A special game for a special city’

Brendan McCarthy
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St. John’s will host an All-Star Classic like no other

You won’t get American Hockey League president Dave Andrews to say AHL all-star games are boring.

The league’s modern mid-season showcase is, after all, very much his baby — or at least a baby that’s now all grown up into a soon-to-be 20-year-old.

But Andrews, who revived the AHL All-Star Classic shortly after he took over the league presidency in 1994, is like a lot of parents who can get a bit ticked off with their teenage offspring from time to time. He admits there have been occasions in recent years when he’s wondered what was to become of the all-star game, about whether it might be caught in a rut.

“But any time I began to feel that way, when I thought that maybe I was getting a little jaded (about the all-star event), it was the fans who gave me the answer,” said Andrews, who was in St. John’s Tuesday to formally announce the IceCaps would be hosting the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic.

 “Every year, no matter what city was hosting the all-star game, I’d find myself walking around the rink and seeing that the fans were really into it.

“That was important, because as much as the all-star game is about our league, our teams and our players, it’s mostly about on fans.”

But while Andrews’ overall satisfaction rating for the AHL all-star game remained high, there was an innovation he had been considering the past two years, an innovation that will be played out on the Mile One Centre Ice in mid-February.

When Andrews promises fans who will take in the all-star game Feb. 12 at Mile One and the skills competition the day before will be seeing an event like no other, he isn’t kidding.

That’s because for the first time ever, a team of AHL All-Stars will be taking on a club team from Europe, in this case Färjestad BK, which has won four Swedish Elite League championships in the past dozen years.

It won’t be a permanent format change, said Andrews, but he notes that 2014 being an Olympic year provides a “terrific window” for this sort of matchup.

‘It’s the first week of Olympic games. There is no NHL hockey being played during that week and there will be no Olympic hockey in terms of national television,” he said during a news conference at St. John’s City Hall.

Andrews noted the IceCaps had committed to hosting the all-star game even if there was a traditional game featuring two teams of all-stars drawn from the 30 NHL clubs.

However, Glenn Stanford, the IceCaps’ chief executive officer, admitted his club  “had pushed hard to have a European team involved.

“It’s something special. Something different,” said Stanford. “If it was to be a first, we wanted it to be a first that happened here,”

Andrews noted the IceCaps’ fan support, which has seen the team sell out every game — regular-season and playoffs — for its first two years, was a contributing factor to making the plan come together

“Love the concept. Love the place. Love the people,” he said. “It’s a special city for our league.

“A special game for a special city.”

IceCaps president Danny Williams added there was much logic behind the decision, noting St. John’s is “geographically closer to Europe than other AHL cities.”

Former NHL star Hakan Loob, the director of hockey operations for Färjestad, and Jörgen Lindgren, head of the Swedish Elite League, took part in the news conference via an internet hookup.

Loob agreed with Andrews’ assessment that the format should produce “a meaningful game for both sides.”

“It’s a challenge,” said Loob, a former Färjestad star who once scored more than a 100 points in a season with the Calgary Flames.  “We will take it very, very seriously. It’s great opportunity to market our team and great opportunity to show the power of the Swedish game.”

It didn’t quite amount to trash-talking, but Williams has a return message for Loob and his team, which will have to adapt to not playing on the larger international ice surface, at least for one game.

“If you can get through get George Street and play us in that small rink and get over your jet lag, you might have a shot at us, but it is going to be a tough game. I can tell you that much right now,” said Williams.

Stanford jokingly promised a warmer welcome of a different kind.

“Just so that you know,” he told Lindgren and Loob. “The temperature here is about 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) today.

“It will be similar in February when you come over.”

 

Notes 

• IceCaps' season-ticket holders will get first shot at tickets, which will be good for both the AHL All-Star Game and the skills competition. The cost of those tickets will be $100. Williams says any remaining tickets wil probably go on sale in November, but allowing for the expected demand from season-ticket holders, and commitment to corporate sponsors, he isn’t sure how many, if any, will be available.

• Andrews said it’s unlikely, that with this format, that all 30 AHL teams will be represented in the all-star game. He suggested the league’s all-star roster will likely be determined mostly by the coaches.

 New St. John’s assistant coach Jason King and IceCaps’ captain Jason Jaffray attended the news conference, although Jaffray had to duck out early  to catch a flight to Winnipeg, where he will attend the NHL  training camp of the parent Jets, beginning today .

• This will not be St. John’s first AHL All-Star Classic. The city successfully hosted the 2002 event at Mile One.

•The green and gold of the Färjestad jersey had more than one wag suggesting that some fans might think the AHL All-Stars will be taking on St. Pat’s or Mike’s Shamrocks.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: IceCaps, NHL, AHL All-Stars Swedish Elite League Calgary Flames AHL All-Star Game Jets

Geographic location: Europe, George Street, Winnipeg

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