|The 2017 AHL All-Star weekend kicked off Saturday with 'PhanPhest' in the morning/afternoon. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
While the focus this weekend at the American Hockey League's (AHL) 2017 AHL All-Star Classic at the PPL Center in downtown Allentown, Pa will be on the players - the AHL All-Stars themselves - the combined effort and communication between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' organization, the venue's staff and the AHL has made this weekend's Skills Competition and All-Star Challenge possible.
The weekend kicked off with Saturday's 'PhanPhest and Tailgate Party', but the work that went into hosting the league's premier event dates back to last year's All-Star event in Syracuse, NY where the Phantoms' organization sent a strong contingency of their upper management - including co-owners Rob and Jim Brooks and executive vice president Chris Porrecca - to gain first-hand knowledge and experience into everything that is associated with hosting the league's annual event.
"We brought a lot of people because we wanted a lot of people to see an All-Star game and understand how much went into it," Porreca said in a sit-down interview with Highland Park Hockey during last weekend's Phantoms game. "See behind the scenes. It's a lot different going to an All-Star game as a representative of a team than a fan, so it was really to see how things work and be part of it, ask questions and now use that knowledge as we prepared for this All-Star Game."
The Brooks brothers have been a catalyst toward not only bringing hockey to the Lehigh Valley, but also getting out in the community and being engaged with the local fan base. Both Rob and Jim talked about attending the NHL's All-Star games as an annual tradition when they spoke to media during last year's announcement that the Phantoms were selected to host the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic.
It's sure to be one of many driving forces behind placing their bid to host this year's event.
"You're seeing a lot of signage up around town, and really getting the feel that it's All-Stars," Porreca said, adding, "We want that. When all these people from outside of the Lehigh Valley come in this weekend we want them to [say], wow this place was really ready for this All-Star game."
Long hours, tons of work and remembering the process
"Day One is excitement, anticipation, and as you gear up and come closer it's a little - not panic -but oh my gosh there's a lot of work to get done and we still have other games going on. So it's just more on the workload but I think that was expected and I think the staff of both the Phantoms and the PPL Center are working very well together." - Phantoms executive VP Chris PorrecaPorreca and the Phantoms' staff in cooperation with Gunnar Fox - the general manager of the PPL Center (Spectra Venue Management) - and the PPL Center's staff split the work up and made several committees and sub committees doing everything from transportation, welcoming, signage, VIP events and getting everything together and ready for this weekend.
"[Fox] and I have both been spearheading from our end here with the league and the staff," Porreca explained of the process. "The staff that we have assembled for the Phantoms and the PPL Center are such good staffs and hardworking that our job was made a lot easier. We've worked really well together and going back and forth with the league - they've been awesome. It's really an exciting time for the Lehigh Valley and for everyone who works here with the Phantoms and with the PPL Center."
The organization made their goal clear from day one, and got the message out to the Lehigh Valley community. Porreca explained that the area's commitment and support of the Phantoms - a top five team in attendance in each of their first three years in the Lehigh Valley - was also a huge draw in attempting to win the bid to host the All-Star Classic.
"It's going to be exciting and I can't stop smiling over the event and how proud it is to host the AHL All-Star Game," Porreca explained with a smile. "That's something that this organization should be proud of. And it started with our owners Rob and Jim Brooks. They're tremendous pushers of hockey and proponents of the AHL and the Phantoms and they really want this community to be successful with hockey and everything else."
The Phantoms' executive vice president also mentioned that hosting this year's All-Star event will help them down the road with what they hope will also be a new experience for the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia Flyers' AHL hockey in the past seven years.
"I think that this is a catalyst to everything that we want to do," Porreca said of hosting this year's event. "We've had success on our regular season, we are definitely going to have success at the All-Stars and the way the team is playing our anticipation is that playoffs will be around the corner, and this is preparing us for that. The big thing is, the playoffs are similar - really hyped up and ready to go. The spotlight will be on us again."
Now that all the preparations have been made, it's time for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the PPL Center to put on a show for hockey fans across the world this weekend, starting with Sunday night's Skills Competition.
"I'm really proud of all the work the PPL Center staff and Phantoms staff have done to prepare for this coming weekend," Porreca said in closing. "It's a lot of hours. Sometimes it's not a thank you to them, but we try and thank them and really it's the rest of the staff that has done a lot of the work. The good thing is we have good people here working for us. They have tremendous ability and it's exciting for them and for us to bring such a great event to the Lehigh Valley and showcase what we have and what you see here during every game."