Lightning Prospects On Display At AHL All-Star Game
None of the AHL’s 30 teams sent more of its players to the All-Star Game than the Norfolk Admirals, who had Cory Conacher, Trevor Smith and Mark Barberio each named to the team for the first time in their professional careers.
“It was awesome,” forward Trevor Smith said. “It was a great experience. I was glad to share it with Conacher and Barberio as well. To have three guys on our team sent to the game is a credit to the Lightning and Admirals organizations.”
Smith, a 27-year-old in his sixth year of professional hockey, leads the Admirals with 29 assists this season and chipped in his first two NHL assists with the Lightning in late January after receiving the call to the big club on Jan. 16.
He had one assist in the AHL All-Star Game on Monday night, playing for an Eastern Conference All-Star Team which fell by a score of 8-7 after two late third-period goals gave the Western Conference control of the game.
The Western Conference also took claim to the AHL All-Star Skills Competition by getting an 18-10 win on Sunday. However, Smith was a co-winner of the Accuracy Shooting contest and shared the title with Oklahoma City’s Ryan Keller after hitting all four targets on five shots.
Conacher and Barberio both were also factors in All-Star Weekend.
Conacher and Chris Terry of the Charlotte Checkers were the only two players to score two goals in the All-Star Game, with Conacher’s three-point performance tying him with Terry and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault of the Connecticut Whale for the most points on Monday night.
Conacher, a 5-foot-8 rookie forward out of Canisius College, has burst onto the AHL scene this season after being signed to a free-agent contract over the summer. Despite having gone undrafted in the NHL, Conacher leads the AHL with 25 goals this season and ranks fourth in the league with 49 points, which gives him a nine-point advantage over the league’s next-highest scoring rookie.
Having grown up idolizing and patterning his game after the similarly-sized Martin St. Louis, Conacher credits the Lightning organization for helping him transition from an unheralded free-agent signing into one of Tampa Bay’s most intriguing prospects.
“Tampa Bay’s organization is unreal,” Conacher said. “The coaches in Norfolk are outstanding. Jon Cooper is one of the best coaches in the league. He always makes sure you’re ready for games.”
In addition to his three points in the All-Star Game, the 22-year-old native of Burlington, Ontario finished second and just .029 seconds behind Brian Connelly of the Abbotsford Heat in the Fastest Skater contest in the Skills Competition.
Mark Barberio also represented the Lightning and Admirals with esteem, joining Cade Fairchild of the Peoria Rivermen as the only other defenseman to register two assists in the All-Star Game. Barberio’s All-Star performance was just a continuation of the pace he’s set since early October that has him leading AHL defensemen with 32 assists and 37 points as the All-Star Break.
Barberio, a 22-year-old native of Montreal who the Lightning selected with the 152nd overall draft pick in 2008, is in his second season in Norfolk. He’s already accumulated six more points than he did all of last season and is third overall on the Admirals (behind Conacher and Smith, respectively) in points.
“A lot of credit goes to guys I’m playing with,” Barberio said. “ I’m surrounded by a lot of good talent. We all push each other to do better in practice and in the gym, and that has helped me a lot this year. We’re a well-rounded group and it shows in the standings. We’re a deep team and I think we can make a deep run in the playoffs.”
The Admirals are next in action on Friday night, when they begin a three-game road trip against the Adirondack Phantoms. Norfolk enters the weekend with a record of 26-16-1-2 record (55 points), which is the fourth-highest point total in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
“We have a lot of talent and scoring ability, and two solid goalies (Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus) who make big saves and steal games for us when we need them to,” Conacher added.
After Tampa Bay had its AHL affiliate miss the playoffs in seven straight seasons, the Admirals look to be in solid position to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second straight year.
They finished last season with a 39-26-9-6 record and won their first two playoff games against a 117-point Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team, before getting knocked out in the sixth game of the first round.
“Steve Yzerman and the whole staff he puts together is awesome,” Smith added. “It’s a great environment for all the players to be in and makes it much easier to get better.”