AHL Skills Competition 1/27
Lots of interesting conversations with all-stars from both the Eastern and Western conferences today. Check for those in tomorrow's paper. For the main print story, I chatted with Brandon Manning. Did you know that he's the only undrafted defenseman on the Eastern Conference All-Star team?
There's also a roundup of the skills competition. Talked with Bobby Butler, Albany's representative. He and Manning are staring directly across the locker room at each other, which is really funny considering the number of times they've seen each other since Jan. 18. It's all in good fun, though.
Here's a blurb on Manning that didn't make it into the notebook. In the breakaway relay, he went to the backhand on Barry Brust, but the Abbotsford Heat goalie turned him aside. I asked Manning if that would be his normal shootout move, since he has never been used in one in his pro career.
"I don't think so," Manning said. "I think I'm more of a shooter. I tried to do something a little different."
Manning said he wasn't disappointed he didn't get a chance to take a shot in the hardest shot contest. He's seen each of the participants shoot the puck and knew each of them had a cannon, so he liked the Eastern Conference's chances with him cheering from along the boards.
"It's probably better than going out there and embarrassing yourself and clocking in at 80-something," he said. Which begs the question -- why not just wind up on his breakaway attempt? The radar guns are turned off at that point, and he probably could've surprised Brust with just a straight slap shot.
"That really never went through my head," Manning said. "I do have a few moves, but I wasn't thinking too much before that."
Highlight of the night was probably the fastest skater event. Houston's Jason Zucker broke an AHL record, then Portland's Chris Summers broke it again all of two minutes later. Also a really thrilling finish, with the West scoring twice in the final round of the breakaway relay and then Justin Peters gloving Trent Whitfield on the last shot that would have tied the score 12-12. The West won 12-11.
Butler, the AHL All-Star Classic MVP in 2011, probably summed up the spirit of the event the best.
"It's two days of fun," he said. "Good time, eat some pizza and hang out."