WICHITA, Kan. – In this week’s Tuesday Takeaways, Samantha Hoffmann and Matthew Harding the major storylines from the AHL & ECHL, including; a recap of the AHL All-Star festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts and the untimely retirement of the Newfoundland Growlers bench boss, and how it might serve to start a wider conversation.

Let’s get started!

AHL All-Star and Hall of Fame Weekend

The American Hockey League welcomed four new members into the AHL Hall of Fame this past weekend, inducting John AndersonDon CherryMurray Eaves and Brad Smyth into this prestigious club. Anderson won two Calder Cups as head coach of the Chicago Wolves. Cherry, easily the most recognizable due to Hockey Night in Canada, won four Calder Cups and is a previous AHL Coach of the Year winner. In 767 career AHL games as a defenseman, Cherry put up 259 points and over 1,000 PIMs. Eaves as also a two-time Calder Cup Champion, and he still leads the AHL in career points per game with 680 points in 536 matches. Smyth has one Most Valuable Player title and one Calder Cup Championship, and he put up two 50-goal seasons. Smyth is just one of six players in the AHL to ever hit the 50 goal mark twice.

When it came to the skills competition, host Springfield’s Anthony Greco set a new AHL record in the fastest skater event at 13.251 seconds. Yes, that was impressive, but even more so when you realize it topped Connor McDavid‘s winning time of 13.378 from the NHL All-Star competition.

Greg Carey of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms took the hardest shot title at 100.4 miles per hour, which would have been just shy of second in the NHL’s competition behind Brent Burns (100.6 MPH). Utica’s Reid Boucher and San Jose’s Francis Perron tied for accuracy shooting, each taking just six shots to break the four targets. Kaapo Kahkonen continued to demonstrate why he’s one of the top goaltending prospects in the AHL with his CCM Top Goaltender award.

When it came to the All-Star Games themselves, the North Division came out firing on all cylinders en route to its second-consecutive All-Star title. Belleville’s Drake Batherson won the MVP title with five of his team’s 11 goals on the evening. The North (3-1-0-0) defeated the Atlantic in an exciting 1-0 three-on-three battle which went to a shootout, where each team recorded just half of the shots on goal they had during their previous matchup. Both the Central and Pacific finished 1-2 on the night, while the Atlantic came in second at 2-1-0-1.

Our Three Stars of the Week:

★ – The American Hockey League: Primetime coverage on the NHL Network of the AHL All-Star weekend, and organic media attention from Anthony Greco’s stellar Fastest Skater performance have once again drawn attention to the premier development league of the NHL. If I had a dollar from every article and tweet relating to his performance, I could fund the travel expenses of an AHL team myself. It’s great exposure for the talent in the AHL, and especially for Greco and Panther fans.

★★ – Spencer Martin – Colorado Eagles: A 68-save shutout. That’s right, Martin became the first AHL goaltender since the merger and realignment to post 60-plus saves in a regular season game, and he astoundingly did not allow a single goal to boot. He then put up 47 saves the next night (while allowing four goals) for the second time this season. Could the Avs’ farm team have a better record this season if they did not force Martin to stand on his head all the time? Possibly, as making 68 saves, and then 47 saves the following night, isn’t something which happens by accident.

★★★ – The Players: It’s been a long, hard, grueling and competitive season thus far in the AHL – much more competitive than most predicted this summer. In the Atlantic, there are five teams within five points of one another fighting for seeds 2-4 in the playoffs. Just 11 points separates the top team in the North Division from seventh place, while there are four teams within five points of the Central’s fourth playoff slot. The Pacific has the steepest drop off, with 0.760 percentage points separating fourth and fifth place. With all of these teams aiming to make a postseason run, these three-plus days of rest are imperative. 

Clowe’s Departure from Growlers Bench Should Open Larger Conversation on Concussions

When I received news last week that Newfoundland Growlers head coach Ryane Clowe was stepping down to focus on his health, I was a bit stunned, but not surprised. After all, he missed time earlier in the season due to a resurgence of symptoms from multiple concussions. I’m also saddened because the Growlers, ECHL, and the game as a whole, is going to miss someone who played the game hard, never took a shortcut to success, and the inspiration he could be to players who are looking to author their own careers in the sport of hockey.

While coaching doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Clowe, at least for now, his departure should serve as the impetus for a league-wide conversation about concussions. Is the league doing enough for those players who have head injuries? Is it time to educate the fans who come into ECHL arenas about concussions and the effects they can have? All of these questions, and many more, can and should be answered. The ECHL, and even the Professional Hockey Players Association, have a great opportunity to partner with the Maple Leafs and work with Clowe (plus former Brampton Beast and Toledo Walleye forward Connor Crisp, who also retired due to concussions) to be their emissaries on this conversation. It is my hope they explore it when the time is right for everyone.

After having several concussions myself, each one gets progressively worse and you’re never fully healed. There are still days where I feel nauseated, have incredible tension in the base of my head and neck, and have fights with my vertigo. I can only imagine how tough it must have been for Clowe to continue working 16-plus hour days and travel with all of that and so much more going on.

I hope that with some time away from the rink, Clowe recovers and regains some semblance of good health. But for the rest of us, it’s past time to have the conversation about “getting your bell rung.”

Our Three Stars of the Week:

★ – Jeremy Helvig – Florida Everblades: The 22-year-old rookie netminder is on a tear for the Everblades, having not lost in seven weeks. His best work, though, has come in his last four starts. During that time he has allowed one goal on 92 shots faced and has three shutouts. His goals against average is an infinitesimal 0.25 and his save percentage is .989.

★★ – Ryan Hitchcock – Worcester Railers: The rookie forward for the Railers was one of the catalysts on offense this weekend, potting five points (2G, 3A) in three games. For the season, Hitchcock has 14 points (5G, 9A) in 16 games.

★★★ – Zac Lynch – Wheeling Nailers: The third-year forward had a solid weekend for the Nailers, despite the team going winless. Lynch is currently on an eight-game point streak and added five more points (2G, 3A) to his point total this weekend. For the season, Lynch has 45 points in 43 games (13G, 32A).