While the Kings organization will be well-represented in Nashville next weekend, it will be well-represented in Syracuse as well.
While they may have only two representatives in Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, the quality supersedes quantity for the Los Angeles Kings as both will be taking part in the NHL All-Star Game to show why they are there: to prove that they are among the league’s top players. But the NHL will not be the only league showcasing their stars next weekend.
The AHL will be holding their annual All-Star Classic on Monday, February 1 in Syracuse, New York, where the Kings organization will have more of a contingent as three Ontario Reign players and their head coach will be on hand to represent their club.
As per tradition, the Calder Cup-winning coach will be taking part behind the bench at the All-Star Classic and this year, that distinction belongs to Ontario’s Mike Stothers. Along with Stothers, the Reign will be represented by captain Vincent LoVerde, resurgent netminder Peter Budaj and the sophomoric sensation Michael Mersch, who is back with the club following his stint with the Kings.
I recently asked Stothers about his feelings on the upcoming All-Star Classic in addition to his thoughts on each of his all-stars.
“It is quite a thrill for the entire organization to have this amount of recognition for the up coming All Star Game,” Stothers said. “(Peter) Budaj has rebounded with a terrific season so far, after a tough year last year spent in St. John’s Newfoundland. His work ethic and professionalism have shone thru and he is a great example for our younger guys of never giving up in trying times.”
That tough year in St. John’s saw Budaj go 0-9-6 with the AHL’s IceCaps with a 3.55 goals-against average and a lowly save percentage of .888. This season, however, the 33-year-old has turned his fortunes around by going 20-9-2 with a sparkling 1.71 GAA and a .931 save percentage. But the Reign’s success thus far has not been limited to the crease.
While his 19 points in 35 games are fairly modest, captain Vincent LoVerde has been wonderful in the lockerroom and on the bench while standing out as one of the hardest-working players for Stothers’ club.
“We could not be happier for [LoVerde],” Stothers continued. “Loverde started his career here in Ontario when they were part of the ECHL. He is a terrific teammate and has continued to work and improve his game to the point that he is the captain of a Calder Cup-winning Team. Then he steps it up another level to become an all-star.”
Before being called up to the big club, Mersch was enjoying a solid second year with the Reign. In 23 games, the 23-year-old scored 13 goals and seven assists while showcasing his blue-collar skills to get the job done.
“Mersch took his playoff performance from last season to another level and is also an all-star,” Stothers added. “Old-school, down-and-dirty work along the boards and in the blue paint has earned him the right to be selected as an all-star, and also recalled by the Kings. He is very coachable and will do whatever it takes to win.”
Next weekend’s festivities should be exciting for those representing the Ontario Reign. The Skills Competition will happen on Sunday, January 31 at 8pm EST (5pm PST) while the All-Star Classic will happen the following night, February 1, at 7pm EST (4pm PST), and it all takes place as Syracuse’s War Memorial Arena.