The AHL followed the lead of the NHL and adapted the new format, but with a few wrinkles of their own added to it.
Last season, 3 on 3 action was introduced to the AHL in overtime, and it quickly took off with fans collectively celebrating. During it's infancy, there was a total of 7 minutes, beginning with 4 on 4, then reduced to 3 on 3 after the mid-way point. That is how the AHL edition played out during the 2016 All-Star Challenge that was held in Syracuse, NY over the past weekend.
The Skills Completion (Sunday) was set similar to past years with the fastest skater, accuracy, puck handling etc. etc. etc. that's always fun and quite entertaining, watching some of the better prospects that the league has to offer. No qualms here.
The next night (Monday), was the game itself that had taken a page out of what the NHL accomplished, but added a few twists. A Round Robin series was formulated with the four divisions, (North, Central, Atlantic, Pacific) playing a total of 9 minutes in each round. 4 on 4 for the first half, 3 on 3 the second half, with the option of changing goalies. The Championship Game was pared down to 6 minutes of 3 on 3 play. A million dollars was not offered to the winning division, nor a car to the MVP.
I'm not exactly thrilled with the amount of time it took to complete, nearly three hours with so many breaks. It's exciting to watch when your team is playing in overtime during the regular season, but for exhibition purposes, the novelty soon wore off after the second round (especially after watching the NHL contest the night before). At least the goaltenders in both leagues showed some exceptional play.
I now see why the NHL decided to add some live music during the down-low, in-between breaks, as putting a stage together on the ice was different, yet entertaining. But having mascots play musical chairs at center ice in the AHL, was not. Unless of course, that's the sort of thing you like, especially with kids I suppose.
Let's turn to the fans and get their perspectives;
The intent to make the game faster was contradicted by the pauses following short bursts of play. Felt very drawn out. #AHLS7S— Erin Lynn (@Bing_da_Bling) February 2, 2016
@Ski931 I liked it. Might tweak a few things to move it along and stick with 3-on-3 only.— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) February 2, 2016
#AHLS7S Round robin Game too long to watch, Syracuse homers too shameless to listen to in the skills comp. Or lack therof. Always next year.— Ben Sperduti (@PixelGhost25) February 2, 2016
There were same great saves! I wish there were more trick shots in shootout & I'd like to see just 3 on 3, w/ less rounds next year. #AHLS7S— Alicia Strauch (@AliciaS20) February 2, 2016
Also the AHL & NHL should share the weekend. AHL mid-day, NHL at night. 8 on Sun & 7 on Mon is NOT family friendly. Kids have school #AHLS7S— Erin Lynn (@Bing_da_Bling) February 2, 2016
It's been held on Sunday/Monday for a long duration, but that's a really good point that should be looked into.
I thought the AHL was headed in the right direction in 2014 with a tilt from a team in Sweden, Färjestad BK, as that had some pride on the line and even some physical play. Prior to that, a few years of East vs West, then the Canada vs Planet USA thing before that, which was moderately substantial.
When all said and done, Central Division was declared the winner beating the Atlantic Division 4-0 in the title game. Chicago Wolves' Captain and ex-Sens Pat Cannone was the MVP, and goaltender Michael Leighton of the Rockford IceHogs, earned the shutout. After the players lined up for their pictures and awards were handed out, they headed home to prepare with their respective teams for the second half of the season.
The bottom line is this. The 2016 AHL All-Star Event, with it's new game format, was a success..I think. But the mascots can only do so much to pique ones interest with time to spare.
Meanwhile, D-Man Micheal Kostka was selected to represent the Binghamton Senators. The 30-year-old seemed quite happy in embellishing his role as an All-Star for the first time in his nine year career. High fives were apparently the norm with others for Kostka, as he went out of his way with the younger players to pump them up.
During the Skills Competition, Kostka participated in the hardest shot and clocked a respectable 98+ on both attempts. In the game itself the following night, he recorded no points but saw plenty of action for the North Division, including being on the ice with the goaltender pulled in the waning minutes in the third round. Unfortunately, they ended up with a record of 1-2-0, tied with the Pacific Division for last.
In his first season in Binghamton, Kostka has been a catalyst on the blueline while quarterbacking the 9th ranked power play, and is a big time veteran influencing some of the younger guys. AKA as Thor featuring his long blonde locks of hair, Kostka has played in a career high 45 post season games, including winning a Calder Cup in 2012 with Norfolk.
Let's hope Thor gets us to game #46 this spring.
*Cover Photo Courtesy of @AliciaS20