On Thursday, January 23, the American Hockey League announced that Sam Miletic was named to the 2020 Atlantic Division All-Star Team. I will admit...when I first saw the headline reporting that, I thought “oh, that’s nice, Andrew Agozzino will have a buddy with him”. Turns out that wasn’t the case, as Miletic was named to the All-Star Team to replace his teammate Agozzino, who was announced as “unavailable for the event”. Curious phrasing, since Agozzino played in WBS’s last two games before the All-Star break.
In any event, Miletic is an All-Star, so let’s take a look at how he fared during the All-Star Classic.
Miletic was announced to take part in three of the seven events during the Skills Competition held Sunday, January 26. His first participation was set for the Rapid Fire competition. Miletic paired up with forward Vinni Lettieri from Hartford to take shots at Rockford goaltender Kevin Lankinen. Miletic scored on three of his five shots, but it was not enough as the Western Conference recorded more saves in the event than the East by a count of 30-29 to take one team point.
Miletic’s next participation was the Pass and Score event. Here he teamed up with Charlotte’s Jake Bean and Cameron Gaunce of Syracuse to take on Kevin Lankinen from Rockford. The team scored one goal in their allotted time to contribute to the East’s overall score.
Miletic’s final participation was part of the competition-closing Breakaway Relay, where he once again faced off against Rockford’s Kevin Lankinen. Miletic scored on his breakaway attempt to give one more goal to his Eastern team.
Miletic’s efforts were not enough, though, as the West prevailed in the Skills Competition by a score of 18-15.
The highlight of the night was easily Martin Frk of the hometown Ontario Reign, who shattered the old record in the AHL Hardest Shot competition with a second shot of 109.2 MPH. The old record was 105.5 MPH by Colin Miller, and the new record even eclipses the hardest shot recorded at the NHL Skills Competition, which is 108.8 MPH by the very large Zdeno Chara.
The format of the All-Star Challenge in the AHL is as follows: Each division’s team takes on the other three division teams in a series of 10-minute 3 on 3 games. After the six games, the two divisions with the best round-robin records face off in a 6-minute 3 on 3 championship game.
Game 1: Pacific 6, North 5 (SO)
Wild, wild contest to start the All-Star Challenge. Two straight goals from the Pacific, then two from the North to respond to even it. Two more goals from the Pacific to end the first half at a 4-2 lead were followed by three goals in a row from the North. Finally, Joachim Blichfeld scored with 25 seconds left to end regulation tied at 5. T.J. Tynan and former WBS Penguin Chris Wideman scored in the tie-breaking shootout to give the Pacific the first win of the night.
Game 2: Central 3, Atlantic 1
A comparatively subdued second game, as Vinni Lettieri scored the lone goal in the first half to put the Atlantic up 1-0. The Central came out undaunted in the second half, as star rookie Lucas Elvenes for Chicago tied the game 1:00 into the second half. Later, WBS representative Sam Miletic found himself alongside Charlotte’s Jake Bean on a 2 on 0, but Miletic could not beat Rockford’s Kevin Lankinen, the goalie who Miletic had faced so often during the Skills Competition. The resulting 3 on 0 the other way was converted by Matthew Ford of Grand Rapids to give the Central a 2-1 lead, which Gerald Mayhew of Iowa later salted away with an empty-netter to give the Central a victory. Miletic finished the first Atlantic game with two shots on goal.
Game 3: Central 6, North 5
The Central continued its momentum into the third game of the Challenge, scoring the first four goals against the North, then withstanding a furious North comeback fueled by a Joey Anderson hat trick to take their second win of the night 6-5. Six different players scored for the Central in this third game.
Game 4: Atlantic 3, Pacific 2
An early goal by Wideman in Game 4 for the Pacific was matched by Providence’s Paul Carey in a first half dominated by the respective goalies, highlighted by former Phantoms goaltender Anthony Stolarz robbing Sam Miletic blind with a sterling glove save.
Sam Miletic absolutely ROBBED by Anthony Stolarz. pic.twitter.com/Za9jTdgTCU— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 28, 2020
Miletic got his vengeance in the second half, first assisting on the tie-breaking goal by Hershey’s Matt Moulson, then scoring himself on a breakaway to give the Atlantic a 3-1 lead.
T.J. Tynan scored for the Pacific with 27.8 to go, but Hershey’s Vitek Vanecek threw down a sparkling pad stack in the final seconds to clinch the 3-2 victory for the Atlantic.
Miletic finished the second Atlantic game with two shots, an assist, and the game-wining goal.
Game 5: Atlantic 5, North 2
The Atlantic stormed the gates in the first half of the fifth game of the evening, getting goals from Vinni Lettieri, Joey Keane, Paul Carey, and Jack Studnicka to take a 4-0 lead after the first half. Brogan Rafferty attempted to start another North comeback, but Sebastian Aho (the defender for Bridgeport) matched the goal. Charles Hudon scored in cleanup time, but the 5-2 final was already decided to doom the North to an 0-3 night and propel the Atlantic to a 2-1 record in the round robin. Sam Miletic recorded an assist on Joey Keane’s goal, a very pretty team play with Matt Moulson included, to end the round robin with one goal and two assists.
Game 6: Pacific 5, Central 4 (SO)
The Central needed to win its final game to have a chance to get through to the final. They played like it too, pulling a 2-0 deficit in the first half back to 2-2, then a 4-2 deficit in the second half back to 4-4 in regulation. They could not pull it all the way back, though, as Kale Clague scored in the shootout, then Anthony Stolarz denied Chris Terry’s attempt with the edge of his skate blade to give the Pacific the win.
Championship Game: Atlantic 3, Central 1
Both the Pacific and the Central joined the Atlantic with a 2-1 round robin record as a result of the final game, but due to the Pacific winning their games in shootouts rather than in regulation, the Central and the Atlantic advanced to the 6-minute championship game. The Atlantic scored the first 3 goals in the title game, led off by Lettieri and capped by a pair from Providence’s Jack Studnicka. Matthew Ford drew the Central back to 3-1 with his 4th of the night, but the Central could get no closer as the Atlantic Division won the All-Star Challenge.
Most Valuable Player honors went to Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek, who conceded just two goals the entire night and was dominant throughout. It was perhaps fitting that the night concluded with former Los Angeles King Matt Moulson, who just celebrated his 1000th professional game, raising the trophy on behalf of his team.