Most players use the AHL All-Star Break to rest their bodies, spend time with family and re-energize before a furious second-half push and hopefully a Calder Cup Playoff birth.
Representing your team at the 2013 AHL All-Star Classic in Providence isn’t a bad way to spend that time either.
Matt Donovan and Nino Niederreiter donned the Sound Tigers home sweater during the AHL Skills Competition on Sunday evening, and followed that up as members of the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference on Monday night in the AHL All-Star Game. The Western Conference came away with one-goal victories in both events (12-11 in the skills competition, 7-6 in the game), but the scores didn’t take away from what was an incredible experience.
“When we got here, we were just so excited,” Niederreiter said. “It was really great to get to know a lot of guys around the league and see how much great talent there is here.”
Both Niederreiter and Donovan saw plenty of action in the skills competition. Niederreiter participated in the Sher-Wood Puck Control Relay, Pepsi Accuracy Shooting and H&R Block Breakaway Relay, Matt Donovan participated in the CCM Hardest Shot and breakaway relay. Donovan’s best of his two attempts registered at 98.1 MPH; Rochester’s Brayden McNabb won the event with a shot of 101.7 MPH.
“It was OK…better than 80, which is what I thought I’d get” Donovan joked. “I think the radar gun may have been a little messed up for mine.”
Donovan and Niederreiter went back-to-back during the breakway relay at the end of the skills competition. Niederreiter went first and was stopped by Grand Rapids goaltender Petr Mrazek’s right pad, while Donovan saw his wrist shot blockered aside.
“Nino would have been a tough act to follow, but he didn’t score so I actually had a chance at one-upping him,” Donovan said.
The next morning, the American Hockey League hosted its Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where Niederreiter and Donovan saw four players inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame, and heard speeches from honorary captains and Bruins legends Don Sweeney and coach Tom McVie.
“I definitely watched a lot of his games.” Donovan said of defenseman Don Sweeney. Donovan grew up in Oklahoma, but his father’s side of the family hails from New England. “Listening to those players definitely put things in perspective for me. You can lose sight of things sometimes, but they basically told us that you can’t get discouraged if you’re in the AHL or get sent down because this is a great league and a great place to develop and hone your game.”
Fans and players understand that defense and hard-hitting are not exactly common themes of an all-star game. However, Donovan got the crowd into the game when he made the first (and only) hit of the game in the second period, putting a shoulder into San Antonio Rampage forward and former University of Denver teammate Drew Shore.
“My favorite moment from the weekend was definitely hitting Shore, open ice,” Donovan joked. “Had to be the only hit of the All-Star Game.”
Eastern Conference and Syracuse Crunch Head Coach Jon Cooper hopped on the social media bandwagon during the game, created a Twitter account (@CoopersLaw) and sent tweets from the bench during the game.
Donovan hit game changer! #AHLAllStar— Jon Cooper (@CoopersLaw) January 29, 2013
Nino had the only point of either Sound Tiger in the game, dropping the puck off in the slot before Worcester’s Bracken Kearns sent a shot past Abbotsford goaltender Barry Brust.
“Well when I saw the other goalie (Charlotte Checkers goaltender Justin Peters) get an assist in the first period, I told myself I had to get at least one point in the game,” Niederreiter said.
Both Donovan and Niederreiter were happy that they were able to share such a unique experience with each other. The Sound Tigers were one of only 10 teams that sent multiple players to AHL All-Star Game this year.
“It was really nice for both of us to be here,” Donovan said. “Nino really deserved to be here, we roomed together so it was fun for both of us to share this experience. We both had a lot of fun and we’ll definitely remember it.”