Jan Halak, a 21-year-old Canadiens draft pick, stopped 19 first-period shots for PlanetUSA on Monday night to help keep them in an AHL all-star game that they won 7-6 on a late goal by Ryan Callahan. Brett Stirling of the Chicago Wolves was named the MVP after scoring two goals and adding an assist for PlanetUSA.
But it was Halak and Callahan, a New York Rangers pick, who helped secure the victory.
With the game tied 6-6 late and the team’s trading end-to-end rushes, Tomas Fleischmann and Callahan broke in on a 2-on-1 on Canadian goalie Curtis McElhinney.
The original shot was stopped before Callahan banged in the rebound with 3.3 seconds to play for the victory.
The entire game was played at an up-tempo pace before 7,839 fans at Ricoh Coliseum. It was certainly much faster and more intense than the NHL’s all-star game played last week in Dallas.
Kip Miller, Drew Stafford, Joe Motzko and Erik Westrum scored the other goals for PlanetUSA.
Alexandre Giroux, with two, Martin St. Pierre, Sheldon Brookbank, Jason Jaffray and Darren Haydar replied for the Canadian squad.
The score was tied 2-2 after the first and PlanetUSA had goalie Halik to thank for it.
The Slovak has nine shutouts in just 37 career AHL games for the Hamilton Bulldogs – slightly less than one out of every four starts – and looked ready to blank the Canadians in his period of work at the all-star game.
With PlanetUSA out to a quick 2-0 lead, Halak stopped Clarke MacArthur twice from in-close on one shift before robbing Mathieu Darche and St. Pierre on another.
The Canadians finally beat him at 13:49 when Giroux flipped the puck over Halak’s outstretched pad after the goalie had made a nice toe save. St. Pierre tied it a little over two minutes later with a nice deke move on a breakaway.
Halak finished with 19 saves in the first period and warranted serious consideration for the MVP award.
Once he was spelled off by Karri Ramo to start the second period, it looked like Canada might run away with it.
Brookbank made it 3-2 at 6:32, just moments after Canadian goalie Wade Dubielewicz made the save of the game – a rolling glove stop on Callahan, who was in alone.
Giroux and Jaffray soon put the Canadians up 5-2.
But PlanetUSA entered the final period with some life after Stafford made it 5-3 on a quick shot at 17:47 and Sterling scored his second of the night on a breakaway with 0.7 seconds to play in the second.
Notes: Canada is 7-4 in the event since the current all-star format was adopted in 1997 . . . An AHL all-star record crowd of 15,015 watched last year’s game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg . . . Canada was without Jason Krog and Daniel Girardi (N.Y. Rangers), Kris Newbury (Toronto), Lawrence Nycholat (Washington), Mathieu Roy (Edmonton) and Zenon Konopka (Columbus), who have all joined NHL teams . . . Planet USA was missing Patrick O’Sullivan (Los Angeles), Brandon Bochenski (Chicago) and Noah Welch (Pittsburgh) for the same reason . . . Canadian captain Mike Keane accounts for 1,161 of the 1,370 NHL games his team has appeared in.