By Rob Crean
Representing your team in an All-Star game never gets old. But just in case the American Hockey League All-Star Classic was becoming routine for Amerks Captain Cal O’Reilly, who will be making his fourth appearance in the League’s midseason showcase, a change of format this year will provide a new dose of excitement.
For the first time, this year’s AHL All-Star Game will feature four teams playing in a 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 format. There will be one team representing each of the league’s four divisions (Atlantic, North, Central, Pacific). The teams will then play a round-robin tournament featuring six games of nine minutes each; the first half of each game will be played at 4-on-4, and the second half at 3-on-3. The two teams with the best records at the end of the round-robin tournament will face off for the championship, a six-minute game played at 3-on-3.
O’Reilly will be a member of the North Division team, joining fellow All-Stars from Albany, Binghamton, St. John’s, Syracuse, Toronto and Utica. The Skills Competition takes place tonight at 8 p.m., with the Game set for Monday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. (Watch on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel)
“It’ll be a nice change, a little more exciting and maybe a little more intense because there’s more ice and more guys involved with the different teams,” O’Reilly said. “It will be fun with a lot of open ice and all the skill out there.”
The 29-year-old O’Reilly hits the All-Star break as Rochester’s leading scorer with 26 points on five goals and 21 assists in 38 games, and his 21 helpers rank him in the top 25 in the AHL in that category. In two separate stints with the Buffalo Sabres, he has appeared in five games and collected an assist.
This will mark his second consecutive All-Star appearance and fourth overall. Last year, he represented the hometown Utica Comets as the game was held at Utica Memorial Auditorium. He also earned back-to-back All-Star nods back in 2009 and 2010 while playing for the Milwaukee Admirals. In between his two sets of All-Star Games, O’Reilly spent nearly two full seasons in the NHL and one year playing in Russia’s KHL. Since returning to the AHL, he has reprised his role as one of the League’s top set-up men.
Now, Rochester will be the third different franchise O’Reilly will have represented in an AHL All-Star Classic.
“It’s always an honor to represent any team at an All-Star Game,” O’Reilly said, adding that this year will be extra special given that it’s the 60th anniversary season for one of the league’s most historic franchises.
This year’s All-Star Weekend will also hold extra meaning for the O’Reilly family. Cal’s younger brother, Ryan, is making his first career NHL All-Star appearance in Nashville this weekend as he represents the Buffalo Sabres. It is yet another milestone for the brothers, who earlier this season played together as teammates in the NHL for the first time with the Sabres.
With the NHL and AHL games being staggered by a day, it will allow their parents to watch both of their sons. They will fly from Nashville to Buffalo on Monday morning, then make the drive down the NYS Thruway to Syracuse.
“It worked out OK (for my parents),” Cal said. “They’ll be able to go to (Ryan’s game) on Sunday in Nashville then fly in for my game on Monday in Syracuse.”
Between the exciting new game format and the shared experience for his family, O’Reilly’s fourth AHL All-Star will be anything but routine.