Penguins Weekly: All-Star Festivities Don’t Count, But Are Meaningful For Everyone
WILKES-BARRE — Given its status as an exhibition event, the American Hockey League’s annual All-Star Classic doesn’t matter all that much in the context of winning and losing.
Home ice for the Calder Cup final isn’t at stake, and no standings points are up for grabs in either tonight’s skills competition or tomorrow’s round robin tournament.
But for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins representative Ethan Prow, these two days are still extremely important.
All-star festivities are meant to be fun, for fans and the players taking part, and the third-year defenseman has said he’ll head to Springfield, Massachusetts with a take-everything-as-it-comes approach. However, that doesn’t mean Prow won’t be trying his hardest to meet his own expectations and show he belongs with the league’s best.
“There’s a happy medium,” Prow said. “You obviously want to go there and represent your team the right way. You’re not there to screw around. You’re there to have fun, but in the right manner. You just try to find that balance and it’ll be a good time and, hopefully, represent the team the right way.”
One opportunity the event presents for players and coaches is the chance to get to know more faces around the league and catch up with old connections. Last year, for example, Penguins forward Daniel Sprong had a chance to face off against former QMJHL teammate Antoine Bibeau of the San Jose Barracuda.
“I don’t know a ton of guys,” Prow said, “so it’ll be a good time just to go around the lockers and get to know them, pick their brain a little bit. It’s just a good little change of atmosphere.”
The classic will be broadcast on AHLTV and NHL Network, so it’s also a chance for the 26-year-old to showcase himself in front of a wide audience.
Prow said he talked to goaltender Tristan Jarry, who was one of three Penguins representatives at the 2017 edition in Allentown, to get a feel for the order of events and what to expect. He’s likely to have a little bit of an easier time on the ice, as the lack of defense during Monday’s mini games and tonight’s skills challenges lean heavily in favor of skaters.
Even for those that aren’t going to Springfield, the all-star event is an important point in the season.
The journey for an AHL team is long and arduous. Even the days leading up to and following major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas don’t afford players much time off.
Because teams don’t have a built-in bye week similar to that in the NHL, this week’s four day break for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will essentially be its longest of the season. That makes it extremely valuable from a rest and recovery perspective, especially after the Penguins’ particularly strenuous stretch of four games in a six-day span over the last week plus.
“Having that break is always nice,” Penguins forward Jarrett Burton said. “Everyone always has those bumps and bruises from the season, so just having that little bit of time to rest those and feel better, it’s very important.”
There’s also the psychological factor of knowing the weeks that follow will determine who competes in the postseason and who gets an early trip home.
The Penguins are in the middle of a muddled Atlantic Division race, with seven teams all vying for three spots behind runaway leader Charlotte. Given its current placement, sixth and out of the playoffs as of Saturday afternoon, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has already started to feel the urgency of getting a win or get a point in every game.
With only 31 games remaining, the all-star break provides one final chance to relax before the team makes its push for a 17th straight chance at the league’s top prize.
“We’ve been playing a lot of games as of late here,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said, “so our players deserve a good break to get ready for the push going forward. We’ve got our hands full going down the stretch.”
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