(Tommy Hendricks/Sports Talk Philly)
By Tommy Hendricks, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
The hometown Atlantic Division dominated the Round-Robin, but couldn't unseat the defending champions of the AHL All-Star Classic in the Final.
A 1-0 shootout win for the Central Division clinched them a second-straight win at the All-Star Classic in front of another sell-out crowd at PPL Center.
All three Lehigh Valley Phantoms representatives shined during the event, with Taylor Leier picking up three goals and MVP honors, and T.J. Brennan and Jordan Weal picking up a goal and an assist each in four games.
Game 1 started the All-Star Challenge with a tightly contested contest between the Atlantic and the Central. Mackenzie Weegar got the scoring started 3:53 into the first half, and Travis Boyd added a marker at the 4:29 mark to make it 2-0. Oliver Bjorkstrand scored for the Central team with 48 seconds left in the second half to make it a game, but ultimately the Atlantic prevailed 2-1 and picked up the two points.
Game 2 saw the Pacific battle the North to a 6-3 North Division win. The Pacific struck first on a goal from Daniel O'Regan, but the North answered with a goal from Cole Schneider to tie. The Pacific took their lead back on a goal from A.J. Greer, but the North answered again with a goal from Kerby Rychel to tie it at two to end the first half. The North used four straight goals to jump out to a 6-2 lead in the second half, with goals coming from Chris Terry, two from Justin Bailey, and Casey Bailey. The Pacific got one back with one second left, as Kyle Wood beat the buzzer.
Game 3 went to a shootout with the Central ultimately winning, 2-1, over the North. Casey Bailey got the goal for the North in first half, but Alex Tuch answered in the second half to tie it at 1. Schneider got the North on the board in the shootout first, but Kenny Agostino answered by beating Charlie Lindgren. Terry was stoned by Anton Forsberg in the second round, while Spencer Abbott beat Lindgren to give the Central the lead. Forsberg sealed the victory by shutting the door on Alexandre Grenier to give his team their first two points of the night.
Game 4 saw the Atlantic division show off their talent, beating the Pacific 6-1. All three Phantoms All-Stars picked up goals in the contest, with Taylor Leier capping it off with two to put the game away. Brennan and Weal scored the first two goals of the game, but O'Regan scored to make it 2-1. Then Chris Bourque started a trend of four straight goals for the Atlantic, with Boyd and Leier picking up the other three to give the Atlantic four points on the night.
In Game 5, the Central jumped out to a 3-0 lead within the first minute of the contest, with goals from Matt Lorito, Agostino and Tuch. The Pacific countered with a goal from Chris Fischer, but the Central scored another two straight from Bjorkstrand and Lorito to make it 5-1. Wood and O'Regan got the Pacific back to within two, but the Central kept them at bay to hold on for the two points.
Going into Game 6, it was announced that the home town Atlantic division had clinched a spot in the finals, but the North needed to find a win in regulation advance themselves. A goal from Nicklas Jensen and an empty netter from Leier, along with a combined shutout from Tristan Jarry and Zane McIntyre led the Atlantic to a 2-0 win and perfect 3-0 record, setting up a rematch from the first game of the night in the finals.
The rematch between the Central and the Atlantic divisions could not be decided in regulation, as neither team found the back of the net, resulting in a shootout to decide the championship. Through three rounds and six shooters, no one had scored as the goalies stood tall. Anton Forsberg and Zane McIntyre came up with the big saves, resulting in the need for a sudden-death fourth round. Leier was selected to shoot for the Atlantic, resulting in an eruption from the crowd, but could not beat Forsberg, giving the Central a chance to win.
Lorito found a space between McIntyre's pads on his fourth-round attempt to give the Central a win over the Atlantic for the second-straight year, both coming in shutout fashion. Despite the loss for the Atlantic, Leier was named the All-Star Classic MVP with three goals on the night.