It was a long way to get there. Two Toronto Marlies players were selected to attend the AHL All-Star Classic in San Jose and took a wild ride to the west coast, travelling after playing in Syracuse on Saturday night all the way across the continent to participate in the festivities on Sunday and Monday. For both Dennis Hildeby and Alex Steeves, it was a trip well-earned.
This all happened while a major storm hit California that in some places dropped record amounts of rain in a short period of time. Indeed, I was rather concerned when I arrived on Friday and the advisory signs on the highway already were saying "SEVERE STORM: AVOID TRAVEL SUNDAY AND MONDAY". However, California has a lot of varied weather zones, and by Sunday morning in San Jose there was little more than a regular rainstorm. The main damage really happened much further south, or in valley areas around the City that are prone to flooding.
A few players still required extra time to arrive or couldn't make their flights in at all. San Jose Sharks prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin had his own travel delayed, though it allowed him to make a dramatic entrance about halfway through the skills competition to the delight of the hometown crowd.
The two Marlies made it there just in time. "Pretty smooth trip here considering the circumstances," said Hildeby about the long day. Steeves said he "woke up in Syracuse at 3:45 a.m." and when he arrived in San Jose "I had 20 minutes until the shuttle left for the events." Those events started at 3:00 p.m. local time which is 6:00 p.m. ET, so the two had over 12 hours straight of travel and then went right on to the ice for the skills competition.
Steeves was extremely happy and proud to be there. "On a personal level it means a lot, but even more than it means to me, I think it means a lot to my family, teammates, and all the people who have put me in a position to succeed and invested in me and cared about me. This is for them more than myself."
The skills competition is pretty rough on the goalies, but Hildeby said he enjoyed it. "It's tough, for sure, but it's fun too. It's very competitive, and I like the chance to be competitive." Hildeby sailed through the Pass & Score challenge and said that while the setup "doesn't happen very often in a game, it's fun trying."
The Marlies just closed out the long annual boat show road trip with good success. "On this road trip, although we didn't win every game, I thought we played well enough to win every game and put out a product we could be proud of," said Steeves on the results, adding that the mood on the team right now is positive, and they're looking forward to the second half of the season. "I would say the vibes right now are probably the best they've been in the whole year on the team. I thought at the beginning of the year we were building some good stuff, then we had an unfortunate skid."
Hildeby agreed and added everyone is looking forward to the second half, saying "I haven't really felt any panic in the group even when we were losing a lot because we've been playing good all year, only the results haven't come. I think the group is motivated to keep going."
Hildeby said he's been working on his explosiveness which he described as turning tracking the puck into the necessary body movement more quickly, "using quick triggers to get in position for a shot as quick as possible to save my self some time and then after a shot to recalibrate and get to the next position as quick as possible." However, he still humbly credits others for his status as one of the top goalies in the AHL this season. "A lot is thanks to the team, obviously and the way they've been playing to really put in the effort for defence too. I have to thank them a lot for that."
At least after their hectic travel schedules to make it to San Jose, they will have a little time off. The Marlies next home games are a back-to-back series against the Laval Rocket on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Ultimately, the Pacific Division won this year's All-Star Challenge, the second year in a row they won. Next year's All-Star Classic will be back in California, hosted by the Coachella Valley Firebirds (the Seattle Kraken affiliates) in Palm Springs.