January 31, 2018
By: Kristi Fulkerson

This time last year, the PPL Center and Phantoms staffs were recovering from the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic, hosting the event for the first time in the team’s short 3-year history. In 2018, it’s the Utica Comets taking time to reflect after welcoming the AHL’s top players, fans, and media members to their home for the second time in four years. It was also my fourth straight season having an opportunity to cover the event — and it never gets old. 

Each year has been a slightly different experience so I was excited to return to Utica for the second time since the Phantoms arrived in Allentown. My primary purpose was to cover Lehigh Valley’s two reps, veteran defenseman T.J. Brennan and rookie winger Oskar Lindblom — both of whom were great sports dealing with the many interviews over the course of two busy days! Among my favorite parts of the job is having a chance to see our players in a not-so-serious hockey state and have a little fun. However, the competitiveness in both T.J. and Oskar was pretty evident — a common theme among the league’s stars. 

The 2018 AHL All-Star Classic kicked off Sunday with the Skills Competition, pitting the best of the best in a variety of events — 7 total. The Eastern Conf. defeated the West 18-12. On Monday, the All-Star Challenge featured six 10-minute round robin games between the four AHL divisions, followed by a 6-minute championship (won by the host North Division, completing the Eastern Conf. sweep). 

I won’t write a book but there were lots of memorable moments from the weekend. T.J. was making his fifth straight All-Star appearance (3 different teams) and was emotional prior to the first night of festivities, citing the support from friends who made him realize even though he’s been there before, it’s still a pretty special occasion. For Oskar, he was wide-eyed and anxious, getting tips from his fellow Swedish players. I thought the bond between the two Phantoms was pretty neat too — roommates at different stages in their careers, separated by 7 years.

I think it’s also enjoyable to interact with other players across the league. Spending the majority of my time in the Eastern Conference locker room, I had a chance to chat with several All-Stars about different topics (the fun of the All-Star Challenge format, playing alongside rivals, the strength of the Atlantic Division, and more!). Not all athletes are as down-to-earth and pleasant as hockey players in my opinions. 

As far as the on-ice action goes, T.J. would want someone to brag about his 101 mph effort in the Hardest Shot competition (& 3 goals in the A-S Challenge). Oskar’s fancy Breakaway Relay move was pretty sweet, especially considering it was one ‘he saw on YouTube the other day and wanted to try’. Phantoms mascot meLVin also had a pretty good showing, easily earning fan-favorite status and his own name chant from the crowd. 

I was lucky to travel to Utica with a great team from TV2 (RK & Squeezer) and work alongside the best-in-the-business Director of PR, Dan, making for a successful and enjoyable (yet always exhausting) trip. Once again, host Utica didn’t disappoint and I think all attendees agree they put on a classy, exciting event. (The renovated arena is intimate, loud, and worth checking out!) Looking forward to more All-Star Classics and many more Phantoms All-Stars!

Check the recap of All-Star weekend on our LV Phantoms page on TV2sports.com (more stories coming soon)!