Cousins, Stolarz, Atlantic Division Come Up Short to Central Division

Monday, February 1, 2016
The first ever AHL All-Star Challenge pitted four divisions against each other in a round-robin tournament.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms representatives - goaltender Anthony Stolarz and forward Nick Cousins - represented Lehigh Valley quite well in the 2016 AHL All-Star Challenge as the Atlantic Division made it to the championship round before falling short to the Central Division All-Stars in the final game.

Cousins tallied a pair of assists on the night, while Stolarz stopped all but two shots he faced in the four games he played - the least of any of the eight goaltenders who participated.

"No I did not," Stolarz answered when asked if he expected to only allow two goals tonight. "There was a lot of chances, but it was still really fun. A lot of back and forth action. I had a blast."

The Phantoms resume practice Thursday before boarding the bus and getting right back at it Friday night in Bridgeport.

A quick mini recap of all seven games after the jump.

Game 1: North - 1 vs. Pacific - 0

A bit of a slow start to the All-Star Challenge, as the North and Pacific Divisions played a scoreless first 4:30 during 4-on-4 play. In fact, the goaltenders stole the show. It wasn't until 26.7 left during 3-on-3 play that the North All-Stars got on the board courtesy a snipe from Toronto Marlies forward Josh Leivo.

The final shots were 16-7 in favor of the North, so it's not as if there weren't plenty of chances displayed. The goalies - Kristers Gudlevskis (SYR), Yann Danis (ALB), Laurent Brossoit (BAK) and Petr Budaj (ONT) - all were sharp.

Game 2: ATLANTIC - 1 vs. Central - 2 (SO)

Anthony Stolarz got the start in net for the 4-on-4 play and went the first two minutes without facing a shot. He ended with 2 saves on 2 shots before the teams switched to 3-on-3. Exactly one minute into the 3-on-3, Chicago Wolves forward Pat Cannone beat Portland Pirates goaltender Mike McKenna on a breakaway to put Central ahead 1-0.

Atlantic needed every last second to tie the game at 1-1. They pulled McKenna for the extra attacker and Rob Schremp fed Chris Bourque for a one-timer that went in with 0.2 left. Game went to the shootout, where Central got a snipe of a goal from Cannone to take the game 2-1.
Atlantic - Chris Bourque (HER), Rob Schremp (POR) & Seth Griffith (PRO) - No goals
Atlantic Shootout Goalie - Mike McKenna (POR)
Central - Frederick Gaudreau (MIL) - no goal, Pat Cannone (CHI) - GOAL
Central Shootout Goalie - Michael Leighton
Game 3: North - 2 vs. Central - 4

We had the first 4-on-4 goal of the night in Game 3 as Pat Cannone netted his second of the night 1:41 into the contest. Jake Dowell followed it up less than a minute later to put Central ahead 2-0.

During 3-on-3 play, Dowell added his second of the night on a breakaway goal going five-hole on Kristers Gudlevskis 33 seconds into the 3-on-3.

Josh Leivo got North on the board for his 2nd goal of the night with 3:02 left.  Just 31 seconds later, Michael McCarron tapped home a feed from Matt Taormina (his 2nd assist of the game) to bring North within a goal at a 3-2 deficit.

Rockford's Ryan Hartman scored a creative empty net goal for the Central Division All-Stars, banking a hard pass off the wall and into the empty cage to pull Central ahead 4-2.

Game 4: Atlantic - 2 vs. Pacific - 1

Atlantic got things started off with an early goal to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Bridgeport's Alan Quine roofed one past Laurent Brossoit after a feed from Nick Cousins. They weren't done there either, as the Providence Bruins' duo of Alexander Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith came in 2-on-1, with Griffith electing to shoot and score on Brossoit to make it 2-0 Atlantic before the two teams switched to 3-on-3 play.

Anthony Stolarz came on for the 3-on-3 and did not disappoint. He single-handedly kept the Atlantic Division ahead with several big time saves, stealing the show of the second half of Game 4. Stolarz stopped seven of eight Pacific Division shots, surrendering a blast from Ontario Reign's Sean Backman with 1:30 left. That's as close as the Pacific Division would get, leaving them win-less in two games.

Game 5: Central - 4 vs. Pacific - 6

Derek Grant got Pacific on the board 12 seconds into Game #5, using a nice fore-hand to back-hand move to slip one past Eric Comrie. The goals came in a hurry between the two Western Conference Divisions as Grand Rapids' Xavier Ouellet tied the game at 1-1 just 51 seconds later doing the opposite of Grant, going backhand to fore-hand past Laurent Brossoit. The Pacific All-Stars responded with back-to-back goals by Nick Ritchie and Mikko Rantanen to take a 3-1 lead into the 3-on-3 portion of the game.

The high-paced attack continued in 3-on-3 as Jeff Hoggan scored for Central just nine seconds into the second half to cut the deficit to 3-2. The see-saw battle continued as the teams alternated goals the rest of the way before the Pacific Division got their lone win of the tournament. Nick Ritchie tallied his second of the game to make it 4-2 before goals by Andre Benoit and Jake Dowell tied it at 4-4 with 27.1 left.

Derek Grant answered for his 2nd of the game to put Pacific ahead 5-4 with 3.7 left before Brandon Montour added an empty netter as time expired.

Game 6: North -1 vs. Atlantic - 4

The final game before the finals saw North Division needing a win to advance, but it was the Atlantic Division All-Stars striking first and taking a 1-0 lead 2:02 into the contest. Connor Carrick came in on a breakaway but left it for a trailing Rob Schremp just atop the crease. Schremp made no mistake about it, picking a corner and sending Atlantic to the 3-on-3 portion of the game ahead by one.

Chris Bourque put Atlantic ahead 2-0 early in the 3-on-3 portion of the contest before Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis put on an unreal series of moves to set up Mike Sislo, who beat Anthony Stolarz to the spot. That was the only goal Stolarz surrendered though as Nick Cousins set up Alan Quine to make it 3-1 before Rob Schremp added an empty net goal to send the Atlantic Division All-Stars to the finals.

FINALS: Central - 4 vs. Atlantic - 0

The Central Division All-Stars proved to be too much for Stolarz, Cousins and the Atlantic Division All-Stars in the finals, shutting them out 4-0 behind goals from Jeff Hoggan, Derek Ryan, Pat Cannone and an empty net goal by Xavier Ouellet to cap the first ever 2016 AHL All-Star Challenge



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