ATLANTIC CITY - The American Hockey League All-Star Classic did not disappoint fans who love scoring.
The West beat the East 8-7 after a best-of-five shootout at Boardwalk Hall on Monday night.
Don't blame the goalies for the high score - they had the best performances at their position in an AHL All-Star game since 2007. Peoria Rivermen goalie Ben Bishop even won the Most Valuable Player, a rare feat for a goalie in an all-star game.
He stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout and 10-of-11 in the third period.
"It was a big win for the boys," Bishop said. "I never faced any of those guys (in a shootout), so I didn't really know what to expect. It's a great honor to win that award. Anytime a goalie wins it, you have to look at the guys in front of you."
Despite Atlantic City not being home to a professional hockey team, officials were pleased with Monday's announced crowd of 6,113 (seating capacity in the arena for ice hockey is 10,300). This was the first time the AHL held its All-Star game in a non-league town.
Those who attended the game had a great time and made them wish for a more permanent presence for professional hockey here.
"I want the Bullies to come back," said 40-year-old Robert Brown, a Forked River resident, referring to the ECHL team that played in Boardwalk Hall from 2001-05. "I'm having fun at the All-Star game. I wish they would body check more though."
Body checks and penalties were non-existent in the exhibition game, but Brown didn't mind in the end. He showed his enthusiasm by wearing a hat and sweatshirt with the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic logos.
Many of the other fans wore hockey sweaters of their favorite teams. There were all sorts of Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies jerseys bearing the names of former Atlantic City players such as Luke Curtin and Preston Mizzi. Fans from other AHL teams, such as the Connecticut Whale and the St. John's Ice Caps, wore jerseys from their favorites. And, of course, there were plenty of Philadelphia Flyers jerseys.
Richard Aldridge was one of the locals reminiscing about the days that the Bullies played at Boardwalk Hall. Aldridge wore a variation Bullies jersey that he won in an auction almost eight years ago. The retired plumber said he regularly attended Bullies games with friends.
He was happy to have an event such as the AHL All-Star Classic so he could see future NHL stars.
"I think this is great," said Aldridge, 63, from Galloway Township. "I used to have season tickets to the Bullies. I do miss them. It was a fun activity for everyone of all ages."
Even though the West All-Stars won the skills competition 18-10 on Sunday afternoon, the East certainly showed why its guys belonged in the All-Star Classic. The East jumped out to a 2-0 lead early on goals from Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (Connecticut) and Kyle Palmieri (Syracuse). But the West bounced back with two goals against former Flyer Michael Leighton (Adirondack).
However, Leighton didn't let in another goal that period. He finished with nine saves and gave the East a chance to to regain the lead, which it did. The East scored another four goals in the first to take a 6-2.
"I think this was definitely was the best city I have been in for the All Stars," Leighton, who appeared in his third All-Star game, said. "I think all the goalies did pretty good. That was the best display of goaltending I've seen in an All-Star game. The only thing that could have been better was if we won."
But the scoring hit a lull in the second and third periods. The East didn't get another shot on net until midway through the third period, which gave the West an opening.
The West scored three in the second while goalie Yann Dannis of Oklahoma City was stopping all of the East's shots on goal. Chris Terry (Charlotte) scored his second of the game to jumpstart the West's comeback. The West trailed 6-5 heading into the third period.
"I think guys were a little pissed off," Bishop said. "But we came back and stuck with it. Yann did a great job of shutting the door in the period and setting the tone for the third period."
Norfolk's Cory Conacher's second goal gave the East a two-goal cushion midway through the third. He made it 7-5 when he scored on Bishop.
But the West wouldn't go quietly. It tied it up at 7-7 with 4 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game on when Chicago's Kevin Connauton found the back of the net.
"The atmosphere here was really great," said Bridgeport's Casey Cizikis, who had one goal for the East. "I never expected to be here in my first year. It was definitely a fun weekend. It was a good way to spend it."
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