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Central Division wins AHL All-Star Classic

Standing-room crowd packs arena in Lehigh Valley

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The host Lehigh Valley Phantoms stole the show at the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross, on and off the ice.

Led by three Phantoms, the Atlantic Division swept a round-robin 3-on-3 tournament at PPL Center on Monday in front of a standing-room crowd of 8,451. Each of the American Hockey League's four divisions competed in an event featuring 13 first- or second-round NHL Draft picks.

The three wins put the Atlantic Division into the championship game against the Central Division. Grand Rapids forward Matt Lorito won the event for the Central when he scored in the shootout for a 1-0 victory. It was the second consecutive year the Central Division won the event since the AHL switched to the 3-on-3 format.

Lehigh Valley forward Taylor Leier was named the event's Most Valuable Player. Leier, a fourth-round pick (No. 117) in the 2012 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, has blossomed into a strong NHL prospect in his third pro season. He has 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 34 games for Lehigh Valley. He also has played 10 games with Philadelphia and scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 17 against the Dallas Stars.

Leier, 22, had two Lehigh Valley teammates on hand for the Atlantic Division; defenseman T.J. Brennan and forward Jordan Weal each scored a goal and an assist.

"It was an exceptional weekend," Leier said. "Lehigh Valley did a tremendous job. It was great for everyone. It was great for the fan base and for Allentown as a city. It's definitely one of the best places to play in the [AHL], in my opinion."

The Central Division's tournament win meant that for the second time in the past year captain Ryan Craig of Cleveland accepted a trophy at center ice from AHL president and chief executive officer Dave Andrews. The 35-year-old Craig, a veteran of 198 NHL games, captained the Monsters to their first Calder Cup championship last season.

"It was an honor," Craig said of being named to serve as a captain, along with Hershey forward Chris Bourque. "To cap off the weekend with this is special, but I've got to deflect [the credit] to my Central Division teammates."

Before the game, the four teams warmed up in AHL-themed jerseys bearing No. 14 in honor of Tucson captain Craig Cunningham, who continues his recovery from a heart condition.

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