The Fearful AHL & The All-Star Debacle

All-Star Games are ridiculous in nature. They are intended to honor the cream of the crop in a specific sport. The greatest of the great. The top dogs. The faces that launch a thousand ships. Or something like that. Of course, we all recognize the idea of playing an All-Star Game, and it’s usually all about the benjamins. And that’s perfectly fine with me. However, let’s not pretend that the All-Star Game or festivities in any sport is anything else.

As a fan of minor league hockey, the American Hockey League has had a tumultuous idealogy when it comes to the annual All-Star Game. For years it was Team Canada versus Team Planet USA. Basically those in the American League whom were born in Canada played for Team Canada. Everyone else fell into the strangely named Planet USA. I guess that sort of adds to the intrigue a little. However, it also alienates fans of the game outside of Canada for various reasons, but mainly because it assumes Canada is dominating in the sport of hockey. Which, of course, it is.

In an attempt to create a more even ground, and more NHL-like environment, the AHL in recent years has gone to the West vs. East. Needless to say, it neither heightens the importance of the All-Star weekend nor does it make the players any more enthused. For all practical purposes, the AHL is not the landing spot, but a refueling station on the way to the NHL. Plain and simple, a minor league All-Star Game is absolutely pointless in terms of game or play.

What it could mean is dollar signs. A time for the league to figure out a way to put on a good show, in a smaller town, for exposure purposes. Let the record state – I’m against minor league All-Star things. Possibly because it’s done so poorly, but mainly because minor league hockey typically does things in minor league fashion. It’s just the nature of the beast.

But I always come back to the almighty bling. If the league continues to want/need an All-Star Weekend, then make it something interesting. How about those All-Stars putting on hockey clinics in the community? What about a “meet the future stars” outdoor festival? Why not plan a unique skills competition? Trick shot? Best fighter? Hurdles? Goalie mask designing? The point being, it’s time to move away from being a minor league copy cat, and time to get original.

In spite of all those things, the simplest of moves would be to place these All-Star interactions in a town further south where hockey is still fresh. In 18 years, the American Hockey League All-Star Game has never been played outside of the Eastern Time Zone. As a matter of fact, the AHL ASG has NEVER been played outside of the East. That’s a problem. I fully realize that the majority of the AHL hockey community is in the East, but the Western teams are where the growth lies. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Abbotsford certainly deserve a shot at hosting a game. But the truth is found in what the American League fears the most – more lost revenue. A team out West can’t support an ASG, and all that it entails. But I beg to differ. Austin or Cedar Park, would be a fantastic venue. Great food. Great music. Great people. Great buildings. It would be an enjoyable experience for players, coaches, fans, and those curious about hockey in the south or sports in general.

This week the AHL released its plans to again have the ASG in the East. This time in Providence, home of the minor league Bruins. The fear of losing ground continues. The simple route towards promoting the sport has again kicked you in the tail. I forsee a day where the AHL ASG again becomes defunct because it remains unimportant. Why not roll the dice for once, make it a fun event for all involved, and always think outside the box.

I’m a fan of minor league hockey for two reasons. I love the sport and the closest to live hockey I can get is here following the Oklahoma City Barons. I also am a fan because it affords me the opportunity to see future NHLers in the making. It’s a treasure really. I love the process by which the American Hockey League functions. I like the relationship directly to the NHL. It’s a much-needed, and enjoyable league. So I believe that it’s time for a change. A change in almost all regards. But let’s start with location.