The American Hockey League reached its unofficial halfway point on Sunday as the All-Star break began. For most players, the time off is a chance to rest up before the sprint to the end of the regular season as the playoff race heats up. For Zack Kassian, his whirlwind of a rookie season continued as he earned a trip to Atlantic City for the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic.
Kassian learned he had been named an All-Star on his 21st birthday last week and said upon his arrival in Atlantic City that he was excited to take in the experience.
“It’s a huge honor to go to a prestigious event like this and I’m truly excited,” he said. “As a first year player, I’m honored and privileged to be here at the All-Star event.”
In his first full season of professional hockey, Kassian has split his time between Rochester and Buffalo. He began the year with the Amerks and got off to a quick start. He was Rochester’s top scorer through the first 18 games, then earned a call-up to the big club on Thanksgiving Night when the injury bug spread through Buffalo. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 25 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and collected an assist for his first career point. The following night, he scored his first NHL goal in a win over the Washington Capitals in what he described as his most memorable moment of his rookie year.
Kassian went on to total three goals and three assists in 18 games during his first NHL stint before returning to the Amerks in early January. At the break, he has registered 11 goals and 11 assists to rank fourth on the team in scoring despite appearing in just 28 games.
“It’s been very eventful, a lot of ups and downs,” Kassian said of his rookie season. “If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have played 17 or 18 games in the NHL I would have laughed, but I got an opportunity and it was great to play up there and see what it was like.”
His latest goal came in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Toronto, a much-needed win against the team that Rochester is chasing in the North Division standings. At the All-Star break, the Amerks are in 10th place in the Western Conference, but sit just one point out of a playoff spot and are now only five points behind the Marlies for first in the division.
Kassian believes the road win over Toronto can go a long way toward the team making a playoff run in the second half.
“Toronto is a great team and a great rivalry, so that was a big two points and a big confidence booster for our hockey team heading into the break,” he said. “When we’re on our game, we’re physical and we’re on pucks and making plays, we’re a tough team to beat. It’s a matter of doing that night in and night out to be successful and get points and move into a playoff spot.”
Before he and his Amerk mates return to the ice next weekend for a back-to-back set with the Abbotsford Heat, Kassian plans to enjoy his first experience at the AHL All-Star Classic and the chance to meet other players from throughout the league.
“I’ve played with a few guys here at national events, including Tyson Barrie (of Lake Erie) and Casey Cizikas (of Bridgeport), but for the most part I don’t know too many people here. It’s nice to get to see guys you battle with all season long and get to know them at a nice event like this,” Kassian said.
Once the break ends, however, it’s back to business as Kassian embarks on the second half of his rookie season looking to improve on an impressive first half.
“Rochester is a great organization, the coaches are great and they’re putting me in good situations to succeed. Overall, the season is going well but there’s still a second half and I’m looking to be better in the second half.”