SPRONG, EASTERN ALL-STARS WIN 2018 SKILLS COMPETITION

UTICA, N.Y. – The Eastern Conference came away with an 18-12 victory over the Western Conference in the 2018 AHL All-Star Skills Competition at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Sunday night.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Daniel Sprong participated in three events, helping the East claim victory in the AHL Live Rapid Fire, Turning Stone Resort Casino Pass & Score and Dunkin’ Donuts Breakaway Relay. During the Breakaway Relay, Sprong drew oohs and ahs from the crowd by pulling off a between the legs move.

“I don’t think Clarkie (Donatelli) would appreciate that if I tried that in a game, but it’s called a skills competition for a reason,” Sprong said. “It’s about creativity. We’re here to have fun and show off a little bit.”

Sprong showed off more of his creativity during the Pass & Score event, during which groups of three players would attack a goaltender unopposed and shoot as long as they had each touched the puck once. The Penguins’ leading scorer orchestrated a move straight out of Hollywood that unfortunately did not count towards the East’s winning score because their time had expired.

“On the last one, we were trying to do the Flying V like the Mighty Ducks,” Sprong said. “I think it should have counted, I don’t know why it didn’t count. I think it should have counted. I don’t think the people on TV realized it didn’t count, so at least we looked good on TV.”

Alexandre Grenier of the Springfield Thunderbirds shined in his return to Utica, where he is the Comets franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists and points. Grenier won the CCM Hardest Shot event with a shot clocked at 104.1 miles per hour – the third-hardest shot ever recorded in an AHL skills competition.

Defenseman John Gilmour of the Hartford Wolf Pack claimed the CCM Fastest Skater title with a lap of 13.663, the fourth-fastest in event history. And Eastern Conference teammates Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears and Chris Terry of the Laval Rocket shared the Turning Stone Resort Casino Accuracy Shooting crown by each breaking four targets in five attempts.

The Eastern Conference salted away the win by earning an 8-3 victory in the Dunkin’ Donuts Breakaway Relay.

The Providence Bruins’ Jordan Binnington and the Ontario Reign’s Cal Petersen shared the CCM Top Goaltender award, as each turned aside 16 of 18 shots on the evening. Petersen made history in the AHL Live Rapid Fire, becoming the fifth goaltender ever to stop all 10 attempts.

The 2018 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Turning Stone Resort Casino continues on Monday with the AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony at 11 a.m., featuring the enshrinement of Jim Bartlett, Don Biggs, Brian Kilrea and Glenn Merkosky as the AHL Hall of Fame Class of 2018 and also celebrating honorary All-Star Classic captains Scott Pellerin and Craig Cunningham.

The league’s mid-season showcase wraps up Monday night at 7:00 p.m. ET with the 2018 AHL All-Star Challenge, a round-robin tournament among the league’s four divisions played at 3-on-3. The All-Star Challenge will air live across the United States on NHL Network, across Canada on Sportsnet and on the internet at AHL Live.

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SPRONG WILL SHOOT TO SCORE AND HAVE A BLAST IN SKILLS COMPETITION

UTICA, N.Y. – Daniel Sprong was in a car on the way to Utica, New York when he found out what events he’d be participating in during the 2018 AHL All-Star Skills Competition.

He’s pretty fired up about it.

“Oh, I’ve got some good ones, for sure,” he remarked before taking the ice at Adirondack Bank Center.

Sprong will represent the Eastern Conference All-Stars on Sunday night by taking part in the rapid fire shooting event, the three-on-none pass and shoot drill, as well as the marquee event of the night, the shootout relay.

The first event for Sprong will be the rapid fire shot, the perfect event for Sprong to showcase the lethal shot that has him leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins with 19 goals this season. In a fun twist, he’ll be paired with Chris Bourque, the lone all-star representative for the Penguins’ bitter rival, the Hershey Bears.

Sprong said that his Penguins teammate Tristan Jarry recommended this event, because it’s so hard for goaltenders to move from post to post in order to contend with two shooters. Jarry would know from experience, because he was in the crease for this event as an all-star last year.

Then, Sprong will participate in the pass and score event, a three-on-none rush during which all three players much touch the puck before trying to score on a goalie for the opposite conference. He’ll skate with Charlotte’s own rookie scoring sensation, Warren Foegele, as well as Providence’s Austin Czarnik. Sprong is particularly excited about this event, because the goalie opposing him will be an old friend, Antoine Bibeau of the San Jose Barracuda.

“I used to play with [Bibeau] in juniors, and he was a real help to me when I was coming into the league at 16-years-old,” Sprong said. “It’s good to see him and I’m happy to see he’s doing well… I’ll try not to embarrass him too much.”

So there’s definitely extra motivation for Sprong to shine in the pass and score three-on-none, but that mojo goes both ways. Bibeau is determined to keep his old Charlottetown teammate off the scoresheet, but if he’s successful in shutting out his old friend, he won’t gloat about it.

“No, no. I’m not that type of guy,” Bibeau said. “But if he scores on me, I’m sure he’ll let me know.”

Sprong will not be a part of the fastest skater competition, but for what it’s worth, his money is on Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman, John Gilmour.

Last for Sprong will be the breakaway challenge. He’ll be going in the sixth round once again with Foegele and Czarnik, in addition to Lehigh Valley’s T.J. Brennan and Laval’s Matt Taormina. That five-some will shoot against Ontario Reign goaltender, Cal Petersen. Sprong advised fans to stay tuned for some tricks he might have up his sleeve in the breakaway challenge, as he’s prepared to cut loose and enjoy the Skills Competition.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “There’s no reason to overthink it. I’m here to have fun and I’m excited to be a part of this weekend.”


• A full list of 2018 AHL All-Star Skills Competition events and competitors can be found here.

• The 2018 AHL All-Star Skills Competition will begin at 8:00 p.m. ET from the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium in Utica, New York. The skills competition can be viewed in its entirety on TV on NHL Network.

WARSOFSKY IMPRESSES IN HARDEST SHOT COMPETITION

 

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – David Warsofsky stepped up to the blue line in preparation of his showcase event at the 2017 AHL All-Star Skills Competition, the CCM Hardest Shot. After a few strides used to reach a stationary puck, Warsofsky unloaded a slap shot at the empty net with radar guns positioned nearby.

He went through those same motions again for a second attempt. He uncorked another slapper, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd at PPL Center before his score registered on the big screen at center ice. When the result came in, it showed 98.4 mph.

Warsofsky’s slap shot was the second-strongest in the competition at the time, and ultimately finished fourth overall but just nine-tenths of a mile per hour behind the event’s winning score.

At all levels, the hardest shot event is usually dominated by the biggest players on the ice. The likes of Zdeno Chára and Shea Weber have legendary reputations for their record-setting slap shots, and Kyle Wood, tonight’s winner, was the biggest entrant in the competition. Warsofsky, on the other hand, impressed everyone with his score because he stands at five-foot-nine, 170 lbs.

Warsofsky’s showing at the Skills Competition and throughout this entire season has proven it’s not always the biggest guys that pack the biggest punch on their shots. It’s all about the technique.

“I think it’s just the way he releases it,” said Warsofsky’s partner at the Skills Competition, Tristan Jarry. “He’s a smart player, and he’s figured out how to get everything out of his shot even though he’s not that big. We’ve seen it many times this year, and he’s helped us out a lot with that shot.”

Warsofsky’s head coach – with both the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and All Star weekend with the Atlantic Division – Clark Donatelli, offered his explanation for why the small-statured Warsofsky is able to get so much power on his shots by drawing comparisons to another sport.

“You know, it’s like that same thing with the bat speed and hitters in baseball,” Donatelli said. “It’s about the way you hit it. He’s got a great shot, and we all know it. Obviously, it’s less about how big and strong you are. It’s about where you make contact and how you transfer your weight. Bigger guys have an advantage in that they have more weight to move, but in [Warsofsky]’s case, it’s all about the technique and putting it all together for a great shot.”

That shot has helped Warsofsky add nine goals to his All-Star caliber résumé that includes 33 points in 30 games this season. Even if that stat line wasn’t convincing enough for opponents, he now has 98.4 reasons making sure no one will be underestimating this “little guy’s” big abilities any time soon.

 

NOTES

• Tristan Jarry had a good night, himself. He stopped five of 10 shots faced in the hellacious AHL Live Rapid Fire event, then improved to a perfect three-for-three in the Pass and Score. The Pass and Score featured three Western Conference opponents coming in on Jarry with one puck and no defenders in the way. It was perhaps the most impressive showing of all the eight goalies who took part in the event.

“It’s no fun to get scored on, so it’s always a competition,” Jarry said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t think too much and just follow the puck, read the play. We practice that a lot, actually. We do a lot of three-on-oh’s and five-on-oh’s, so the guys actually had me really prepared for that.”

• Unsurprisingly, the Penguins’ All-Stars were booed heavily when announced at PPL Center, home of the rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Jarry couldn’t contain his smile when the crowd erupted with displeasure at the mention of his name. Clark Donatelli held his composure a bit better when the cameras cam his way, but said afterwards that that kind of hostility is part of what makes these events enjoyable.

“They’re rivals! They can’t take a night off to like us,” Donatelli said. “I think that makes it more fun, though. The rivalries in Pennsylvania, they’re good for the fans. And when the fans are into it, it’s more fun for the guys on the ice, too.”