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2023 AHL All-Star Classic

All-Star Journey: Odyssey to Laval

#AHLAllStar | Polar Vortex be damned, @theAHL’s all-stars used every means necessary to get to Laval for the AHL All-Star Classic. @FPHWolves came in from the cold and has more:

TJ Tynan embraces the cold weather in Laval. Photo Courtesy: Andrew Fielder

All-Star Journey: Odyssey to Laval

LAVAL, QC. – The schedule made it difficult enough to begin with, but no one could have predicted what would come this weekend.

Just ahead of Sunday’s Skill Competition to lead off the American Hockey League’s All-Star classic, a polar vortex swept into southeastern Canada, engulfing the host city of Laval in horrifyingly low temperatures. The city ground to a halt as the thermometers plummeted to a degree where it didn’t matter if it was measured in Fahrenheit or Celsius; the result was nearly the same. The Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport froze in place; with delays all over the region and a flood of people coming in for the weekend’s events, the scenes of luggage piled up all over, doused in frigid winds were the stuff of travel nightmares.

The show, however, must go on.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

30 of the AHL’s 32 franchises were in action on Saturday evening, with some all-stars having to travel over 2,500 miles from their last game before the break. That meant a turnaround for some, including San Jose’s Thomas Bordeleau, of just over 15 hours before the red carpet events introducing them to the weekend’s festivities.

“It’s been a long trip here obviously,” Bordeleau said. “Red eye, got here this morning but it’s been good. There’s no real way around it, bunch of guys, it happened to them to.”

Bordeleau grew up just down the road from Laval in Terrebonne. With friends and family in the area, the turnaround could have been four hours – there was no way he would miss this event.

“A lot of friends, lot of family will be here. I’m excited. I haven’t seen them in a while, they haven’t seen me in a while so it’s going to be really good.”

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Thomas Bordeleau shares a fist bump with a fan on the red carpet. Photo courtesy: Andrew Fielder

Still, this is asking a lot coming in from the west coast. Others had a shorter flight, but with the incoming conditions, the situation was treacherous all the same. Chicago Wolves captain Max Lajoie scored the game-winning goal for his club on Saturday night and was in Laval by Sunday afternoon. Luckily for him, he was able to secure his bag at Montréal-Trudeau.

“It wasn’t too bad.” Lajoie said with a smile on his face. “We got out this morning at 8 am. No delays, got my bag. Not complaining.”

Some players were last-minute additions, and adjusting the travel schedule for Jake Christiansen at the eleventh hour made the process kind of hairy.

“Yeah, I was I was supposed to go to LA but the GM of Cleveland helped me and they organized the travel for me and stuff.” Christiansen said. “So it went all smoothly. I left this morning from Cleveland and there was another guy on my flight that we played against last night. So, travel wasn’t too bad, just hectic.”

Sacrifices needed to be made in order to make it in on time. For Hershey forward Mike Vecchione, it was his appetite.

“It was tough. Obviously.” Vecchione said of the travel. “We had Friday and Saturday games, so just slept a couple of hours. Today I’ve done a flight, a connecting flight, then I got here and I’ve been running around ever since! I really haven’t gotten to eat or do anything really. Definitely starving, that’s for sure.”

With Syracuse Crunch defender Darren Raddysh, the weekend events’ anticipation helped alleviate some of those travel woes on a tight schedule.

“I left this morning around eight o’clock and got in around noon.” Raddysh said. “It has been a busy day but the excitement helps with that.”

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Logistically speaking – is it all worth it? Couldn’t the AHL just take one of those extra days for some headache-free travel for the players?

Well, yes, but actually, no.

Those Friday/Saturday games are the bread and butter of the American League. It seems like a simple solution to take a Saturday away to allow players like Bordeleau or TJ Tynan coming in from the west coast to at least catch their breath before performing in the weekend’s festivities. The events are also not being moved anytime soon – no one’s having the All-Star Classic on a Tuesday or Wednesday for convenience purposes.

It bears repeating: 30 of 32 franchises were in action the day before the festivities began. If that doesn’t highlight how crucial the AHL feels about their weekend games with packed buildings of raucous fans, it will be difficult to convince anyone otherwise.

The schedule is tight, and luckily most of the incoming players avoided the mess of the worst weather coming into Laval. The only alternatives or changes that could be made aren’t realistic for this league that’s already operating in a tight window with little wiggle room.

The solution for this weekend, then, is to hold course. It sounds crazy, but the players seem to buy into the idea, even with the quick turnaround.

The Best of the Best

With the weekend of events ahead, players and coaches will go to great lengths to share the ice and experience with the best skaters and goaltenders in the league. Lajoie’s excitement could be seen beaming on his face.

When asked who he was looking forward to playing with: “Everyone. I’ve played with a lot of guys here too, like [David] Gusty and [Christian] Wolanin and those kind of guys. It’s nice to be back with these guys and just be in the moment.”

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Max Lajoie greets the crowd from the red carpet. Photo courtesy: Andrew Fielder

Raddysh shared a similar sentiment, willing to get through the hectic travel schedule to line up with some of the best in the world.

“Probably just all the guys out west.” Raddysh was most looking forward to seeing. “You know, I don’t get to see them too much playing in Syracuse. So we’ll see what the talent is out there. That’ll be fun.”

Griffins captain Brian Lashoffa father, and veteran of sleepless nights, was more than happy to jump at the chance to jump on a plane right after a big win in Texas to make it for the weekend.

“Not much sleep at all,” Lashoff lamented. “But it’s worth it to be around these guys and have the experience this weekend. It will be really fun.”

Charlotte forward Riley Nash – another father – expressed his excitement to play in this event, making it worth the travel schedule.

“Looking forward to seeing the Western guys.” The Eastern forward said. “You kind of hear about a lot of those guys, but we don’t play any of them. So, it’s our first look at them. There’s some really good teams out there. Looking forward to seeing Max McCormick and TJ Tynan. They both are having a pretty good year. “

The change of pace for Vecchione to play with rather than against some of these players allowed him to battle through an empty stomach for the chance to share the ice.

“We play against Lehigh so often during the season. So it’s actually nice to play alongside a guy like [Alexander] Nylander, [Ronnie] Attard, and [Tyson] Forester and those types of guys. And obviously, everybody on the east, you play against them once and they’re tough. But obviously, those are rival teams. And you always see him every single night almost all the time and they are tearing you up on the score sheet. So it’s nice to be on the same team and beat up on some other conferences this week.”

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Mike Vecchione moves in on Lukas Dostal. Photo Courtesy: Andrew Fielder

Despite it all, from Covid delays to travel delays, the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic is here.

Catch all the coverage of Monday’s event right here at Field Pass Hockey.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHWolves.

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