Alex Nylander wasn’t even supposed to go the AHL All-Star Classic.
He was a replacement for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defenceman Xavier Ouellet who was injured, but then Alex rode into town and stole the show at the game, robbing the North Division of their rightful place in the final via a shootout that went on for so many rounds they actually had to reset the roster and allow players to have a second attempt. That scoundrel even had the nerve to switch to #88 for the game. It’s an outrage!
But also so much fun.
There were two invited players from the Atlantic Division that wear #19, Alex Nylander and Mike Vecchione from the Hershey Bears. One of them had to change their number for the game and it fell to Alex who took his brother’s #88, no doubt cackling villainously while doing so.
#88 out for warmup here in Laval! pic.twitter.com/uzRoYHMiiZ— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) February 6, 2023
The All-Star Classic in Laval was a fantastic two-day event, the first day of which was the skills competition which I covered from the Marlies perspective here:
Woll stops 9 out of the 10 in the rapid fire challenge. pic.twitter.com/Yu348hgoDA— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) February 5, 2023
Day two had the actual All-Star Challenge which is setup as a mini-tournament where four teams made up of players from each of the four AHL divisions—North, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific—play in a round-robin event where each division team plays each other division team one time in quick games that have two five-minute periods of three-on-three hockey; like standard overtime hockey in the regular season, but with two periods.
The two period setup is to allow the two goalies on each team to get one chance in net per game, though there was a wrinkle this year as hot goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov from the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate) couldn’t make it to Laval due to last minute travel issues, so goalie Dustin Wolf of the Calgary Wranglers (Calgary Flames affiliate) pulled double duty as a Pacific and Central division goalie.
It’s also a fun setup as games are quick and have a lot of high-stakes plays, though on occasion they can get too defensive in the final minute as they hold out for a shootout tie breaker, however shootout rounds are limited, and if no team has a goal advantage at the end the game will actually end in a tie.
Yes, I said a tie.
And there were three of them. The North Division had all three of their games end with a tie in regulation and a tie/no goals. Including Alex Nylander scoring one right in front of the net.
This is when things got weird.
Leadership and Logan Shaw
With yet another game ending in a tie, and the shootout going to the maximum number of rounds with no goals, the officials were a bit puzzled about what to do next. What happens when a tie breaker also ends in a tie in an All-Star Game?
I’m sure a philosopher would get loquacious about the concept of a tie-breaker also ending in a tie, but Marlies Captain Logan Shaw had no time for that, and offered a more practical solution; he jumped over the boards, went to center ice and started banging his stick on the ice to demand he get a puck and the shootout continue until there was a real winner.
Now that’s leadership, and that’s why he’s the captain of the team. Both Noel Hoefenmayer and Joseph Woll told me separately that Shaw’s leadership has been invaluable to the team this season, with Hoefenmayer saying “he’s very well respected in our room and he’s become a good friend.”
When I approached Shaw with those remarks he seemed almost rushing to defer to anyone else but himself, saying “my job is pretty easy, especially with what Rich Clune had left me with,” then adding the group of guys were so good that he only had to use his “loud voice” on rare occasions, and when he did it was because “I care and I want to be there for them.”
For a guy who has 52 points in 45 games, and who clearly has the total respect of all of the guys on the team, it sounds a bit too humble.
Coach Greg Moore agreed, saying “He’s being very modest. I think most leaders [who are] put in those positions that do such a good job know that it’s important to respect and understand just how many things go on around them that help them do their job, but he’s a really good captain and a very good leader for us.”
The officials were then forced to cave to public opinion—Shaw got the whole crowd on board with them chanting [en français] “continuer”—demanding the shootout go on until there was a winner. Shaw got his wish, and was next up and missed his shot, but then so did the next shooter from the Atlantic. The sudden-death shootout continued for several more rounds until someone finally got a puck in the net.
THAT MONSTER ALEX NYLANDER!
The chance for the North Division to advance to the final now rested solely on this extended shootout. It went on for so long that the entire team on each side got a chance to shoot so they had to reset the rosters and let players go out a second time. You’ll never guess who was the one to finally score and eliminate the North Division...
Stupid sexy Nylander brother! Fortunately, the Pacific Division avenged our loss and eliminated the Atlantic Division, winning the tournament. All of Alex’s evil shenanigans were for naught! And we have the further satisfaction of knowing Alex was robbed of the chance to go with his brother on his own all-star break down to... oh I’d guess St. Barts or Mustique, or whatever obscure private Caribbean island paradise they would have visited. Instead he had to spend it with me, and all the AHL fans in Laval where it was -20°C outside, at least until we left on Tuesday.
It figures, the day you leave the weather improves.
The Marlies return from the All-Star break still comfortably in first place in the North Division.
They now are out in the Atlantic Division to play back-to-back games against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes affiliate) starting tonight. The Checkers currently sit third in the Atlantic division.
It’s a rough schedule for the Marlies after those games are done with five games in eight days(!) starting on Monday in Toronto when they play the Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets* affiliate). We’ll keep you posted here at PPP on the games, at least through the end of this month!
I would like to thank The American Hockey League and their fantastic staff for inviting me to this amazing event in Laval and for all the support they provided along the way; also stick taps to my SB Nation colleague Jared Book from our mortal enemies at HEOTP, who kindly helped me navigate the confusing basement corridors of Place Bell.