Hockeywood: The Sequel!

05 June 2020

That's me and my good friend (and Hockey Road Trip companion) Chad at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles.  It had always been my intention to see hockey's finest in their annual mid-season exhibition, so I was stoked when it came to our town three years ago.  That year was extra special because the NHL was celebrating its centennial and honored the 100 greatest players in league history, with many of them being on hand for the weekend's festivities.  I know the game itself may not be the most competitive or dramatic, but these All-Star Games are really designed for the fans and I highly recommend everyone try to attend at least once.

Fortune struck the hockey-loving residents of Southern California a few years later when the American Hockey League announced that the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic would be coming to Ontario, the suburb located less than 40 miles east of Los Angeles.  Minor-league hockey has been played in the Inland Empire since the Ontario Reign joined the ECHL in 2008, and greater things were to come when the team moved up to the AHL in 2015.  The Reign have consistently been near the top of the AHL's attendance charts, so it was only a matter of time before they got their chance to host the All-Star Game.

Chad instinctively bought tickets - which included admission to both the All-Star Skills Competition and All-Star Challenge - as soon as they went on sale, remembering how much fun we'd had at the NHL equivalent just a few years prior.  The only drawback was the timing: in order to avoid competing against the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition (which have recently been held on a Friday and Saturday), the AHL would stage their events during the days immediately following the NHL, with their Skills Competition on Sunday and the All-Star Game on Monday.  Given the distance and the usual amount of traffic getting out to Ontario, it just meant we'd have to use a half-day of vacation time to leave work early and watch the All-Star Game, but it was totally worth it!


Chad and I embarked on the hour-long drive to Ontario, arriving around 4pm to see a large crowd of fans wandering around the parking lot of Toyota Arena.  There was a "fan fest" in place, which featured several booths with food and merchandise for sale, as well as games and activities to win random prizes.  There were dozens of fans lined up to enter the arena, even though the doors hadn't yet opened, so we decided to walk around and see what the AHL had to offer.  I won a LA Galaxy sticker, a Dave and Buster's shot glass, and we were also handed some free sunglasses - we weren't thrilled with the dining options at the booths and food trucks outside, so we headed inside to eat once the doors opened.

I have to say it: the Toyota Arena is beautiful.  I've been to numerous games (and a Metallica concert) and I've always loved the layout and design of the building, with its wide concourses and open viewing areas at the ends of the ice.  The AHL couldn't have chosen a better venue to hold their All-Star competition, and we had a great time strolling around and soaking up the energy.

The best part was that there were mascots EVERYWHERE!!  Chad and I have always tried to get pictures with mascots at every game we attend, and we managed to meet several at the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles, so this afternoon turned into a scavenger hunt.  One by one, we quickly hunted down all of the AHL mascots we had not met previously and posed for a picture with them.

By the time the hunt had concluded for the night, I met five mascots: Chubby (Charlotte Checkers), Griff (Grand Rapids Griffins), T-Bone (San Antonio Rampage), Roscoe (Milwaukee Admirals), and my personal favorite Ringo (Texas Stars).  They were all very active and kept the younger fans entertained with their antics.  What can I say?  Interacting with mascots always seems to bring out the kid in me, and I'm very grateful that so many teams continue to employ them and value their importance.

Clockwise from upper left: Chubby, Griff, Roscoe, T-Bone
Ringo had us in stitches all night long
But now it was time for the on-ice activities to begin, so the mascots joined the players on the ice for their introductions.  Like the NHL, the AHL is also divided into four divisions, with each sending 12 players to the All-Star Classic, and at least one player representing every team.  The Pacific Division was saved for last, and the crowd gave a rousing welcome to the final players from the Ontario Reign: Kale Clague, Martin Frk and Cal Petersen.  There was also a brief moment of silence before the national anthems to honor Kobe Bryant, who had tragically passed away earlier that morning.

For the next couple of hours, we sat back and watched a very fun display of athleticism and talent, including competitions such as the Fastest Skater (won by Belleville's Alex Formenton) and the Accuracy Shooting event (won by Laval's Charles Hudon).

But the highlight of the night came during the Hardest Shot competition, when Martin Frk brought the fans to their feet by setting a new record in the event!

All in all, it was a good time and it's always nice to spend an evening at the rink.  We kicked back and relaxed while eating and enjoying some fun exercises AND got to have some fun interactions with several mascots.  We'd be back it again tomorrow for the All-Star Classic!


After rocking my St. Louis Blues jersey to pay homage to the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions on the previous night, I opted to wear the P.K. Subban All-Star jersey that I bought in 2017 to tonight's All-Star Game.  Before we even made it to our seats, we grabbed a quick picture with Tux, the mascot of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Once again, there was another set of player introductions and the puck was dropped for the first of six "mini-games" between the four AHL divisions.  This round-robin format allowed each division to play the other three, and the games were shortened to 10 minutes to determine the final two teams who would play for the championship.  With it being a Monday, the crowd was a little smaller than the day before, but they still had good enthusiasm and support, especially for the Pacific Division.

I knew enough of the players to keep things interesting, but I still found myself a little restless as the games came and went.  As a result, Chad and I roamed around the concourse to do some shopping and grabbed dinner at a concession stand while periodically keeping an eye on the action.  For us, the best part came during the first intermission when the mascots held a game of their own!

We returned to our seats and noticed that the crowd had started to dwindle ever so slightly - it was a weeknight after all, and there were a lot of families with small children in attendance.  By the time the Pacific Division was eliminated, large groups of fans headed to the exits but we stuck around to watch the championship game between the Central and Atlantic Divisions.  It was a hard-fought contest as both teams really put forth their best effort once they got to the "winner take all" finale, and it was the Atlantic Division - led by MVP goaltender Vitek Vanecek - who skated off with a 3-1 victory.

It may have only been the minor leagues, but it was still a very fun and entertaining couple of days.  The AHL is doing a great job of expanding its footprint and getting new fans engaged, so I always suggest that hockey fans try to see some of these games if possible.  And should the AHL All-Star Classic come to your town, do yourself a favor and check it out - you won't be disappointed!

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