Lehigh Valley Phantoms fans have watched winning hockey through the first half of the American Hockey League season.
They'll have an opportunity to continue to see top-notch hockey when Lehigh Valley hosts the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross. The two-day event starts Sunday with a skills competition before a four-team round-robin tournament featuring 3-on-3 hockey Monday.
Lehigh Valley is 27-11-2-0 going into its home game against the Binghamton Senators on Wednesday. The Phantoms are third in the AHL and they have moved to within seven points of the league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. They've also averaged 7,986 fans per game, fifth-best in the AHL.
The Phantoms arrived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the 2014-15 season, providing the Philadelphia Flyers with an AHL affiliate 90 minutes from the Wells Fargo Center. Though the Phantoms missed the Calder Cup Playoffs in their first two seasons, they have been a box-office success playing in their downtown arena. Last season they sold out 24 of their 38 home games and have seven sellouts this season with a busy second-half home schedule approaching.
Rob Brooks co-owns the Phantoms with his brother, Jim, and they brought them to Pennsylvania from Glens Falls, New York. The arena is part of a downtown revitalization program that also features restaurants, a hotel and several other businesses.
"[The All-Star Classic is a] real showpiece for the American Hockey League every year," Rob Brooks said. "We're very honored to host it.
"It's something we want to show off, show off the revitalization of Allentown. We're really proud of building the relationship [with the Flyers], especially with the American Hockey League getting closer and closer to the NHL, and more and more guys making an impact, more first- and second-rounders [from the NHL Draft] playing every year. It's great for our city, it's great for the Valley, it's great for the Flyers to have and show off their relationship with the Phantoms."
A quality on-ice product also helps and the Phantoms are a blend of top prospects and high-end AHL veterans. Among them are defensemen Samuel Morin, selected with the No. 11 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and rookie Travis Sanheim, a first-round pick (No. 17) in 2014. Goaltender Anthony Stolarz is closing in on full-time NHL duty and they also boast a number of intriguing young forwards.
"Everybody can see it now with Morin and Sanheim, and they're watching them develop and watching them get better every game," Rob Brooks said. "Pretty soon they're going to be watching a long career [in Philadelphia]. The stronger the AHL gets, you're going to see more and more of these prospects really developing there into impact players in the NHL."
Fans also watch those prospects in one of the top arenas in the AHL.
"We visited a lot of buildings and in baseball," Rob Brooks said of the process of designing the arena. "We wanted a great place for the players to develop and all the tools but also a great place for the fans to experience. You'll see things in our arena that you won't see in other arenas, little perches, things we brought from other arenas in hockey and baseball."
HALL OF FAME
There will be a distinct Pennsylvania flavor to the AHL Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Ceremony on Monday.
The event will include the induction of defenseman Bryan Helmer and executive Doug Yingst. Helmer, who played 146 NHL games in a pro career spanning 20 seasons, won back-to-back Calder Cup championships with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010 and is Hershey's vice president of hockey operations. Yingst spent 34 seasons with Hershey, including as a general manager, and won four Calder Cup championships with the team.
Joining Helmer and Yingst will be long-time forwards Billy Dea and Rob Murray.
Utica Comets goaltender Richard Bachman was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending last Sunday. He was 3-0-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .963 save percentage. He has won five consecutive games.
Chicago Wolves forward Kenny Agostino leads the AHL scoring with 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists). … Lehigh Valley forward Greg Carey leads the league with 22 goals. … Goaltender Juuse Saros is with the Nashville Predators but still leads the AHL in goals-against average (1.76) and save percentage (.938). … Lehigh Valley's 3.68 goals per game lead the league and Grand Rapids has allowed the fewest goals per game (2.33). … Utica is on a six-game winning streak and Bridgeport has won four games in a row to move past Hershey into fourth place in the Atlantic Division. The Bears are in a 1-7-2-0 slump. … Rochester forward Justin Bailey's seven-game point streak ended in a loss at Bridgeport last Sunday. He had nine goals and two assists during the streak.
ON THE MOVE
The Detroit Red Wings assigned veteran forward Drew Miller to Grand Rapids. … Goaltender Pheonix Copley is back with Chicago Wolves after a short stint with the St. Louis Blues. … Binghamton forwards Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini have joined the San Jose Barracuda after the Ottawa Senators traded them to the San Jose Sharks for forward Tommy Wingels. … The Rockford IceHogs added forward Michael Latta from the Ontario Reign in a trade between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Rockford defenseman Cameron Schilling went to Ontario in the trade. … Forward Seth Griffith, who had 77 points (24 goals, 53 assists) with the Providence Bruins last season, has joined the Toronto Marlies. He was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Florida Panthers. … The San Diego Gulls have lost forward Stefan Noesen, who was claimed off waivers by the New Jersey Devils. … Forward Anthony Duclair joined the Tucson Roadrunners from the Arizona Coyotes. … Through Tuesday, 69 players have made their NHL debuts this season.