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PlanetUSA prevails in AHL All-Star Shootout
PHILADELPHIA - Robert Esche made four saves in the shootout, 14 in the third period and overtime, yet had no problem reasoning why he didn't win the First Union Most Valuable Player of the Game. "He played tremendous," Esche, a goaltender with Springfield, said of the MVP
winner. "He faced 18 shots. If I faced 18 shots, they would have had six more goals."
"He" is Jean-Marc Pelletier, one of two young goaltenders who play for the Philadelphia Phantoms, the AHL farm club of the NHL's Flyers, and Monday night, he showed the 19-team AHL as well as the NHL scouts on hand, why Flyers' president and general manager Bob Clarke is committed to developing his young goalies as the PlanetUSA Stars defeated Canada 5-4.
Pelletier, a 20-year-old, and Brian Boucher, a 22-year-old, are the Flyers goalies of the future. Clarke sensed as much last summer when he signed free agent goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.
He liked the package Vanbiesbrouck offered as a solid veteran goalie. He didn't want to sign a goalie to a long term contract because he knew his youngsters have the potential to be something special.
Pelletier was special on Monday night in front of an AHL All-Star Classic-record crowd of 14,120 at the First Union Center.
Herbert Vasiljevs of Kentucky and Chris Ferraro of Hamilton scored on Hamilton goalie Steve Passmore in the shootout and Esche stopped four Canadian shooters, but it was Pelletier's night to shine in front of a home crowd.
"I put everything in the past behind me," said Pelletier, who started 19 straight games for the Phantoms when Boucher was injured, but has played up and down lately. "It did give me a nice boost in confidence with the ovation from the fans. I wanted to give them back a little extra."
Pelletier also put the MVP trophy behind him. "I'm just imaging everything's back to zero and it's a whole new season," he explained. "We (Canada goalie Marc Denis of Hershey) were saying before the game, what are the chances a goalie would get the MVP in an All-Star Game? He'd probably have to face 25 shots and stop all of them."
Pelletier, born in Atlanta, Ga., faced 18 and stopped 17. The one that got away was by Peter White, on the game's 15th shot, after Pelletier did everything but a ballet pirouette to keep Canada off the scoreboard.
White scored on his own rebound, putting the puck into the net off the post. "I wasn't trying to give any favors out there," Pelletier recounted. "But I was happy for Peter. He played a great game."
The Flyers' Clarke checked out the action from high in the super box level and had to like what he saw of the Flyers future. Forward Richard Park (22), defenseman Sergei Klimentiev (23) and Pelletier played for PlanetUSA while 29-year-old forwards White and Jim Montgomery played for
Bill Barber, the Flyers' Hall of Famer and coach of the Phantoms, coached the Canadian team in the loss after coaching PlanetUSA in a loss in last year's Classic.
Bill Dineen, the former Flyer coach, served as honorary captain for Canada. Former Flyer Joel Otto acted as honorary captain for PlanetUSA.
Veteran Flyer goalie Ron Hextall, who was doing stand-up interviews for ESPN2, had to be a little nervous as Pelletier turned away shot after shot. Pelletier made over a dozen acrobatic, breath-taking stops, beginning with a point-blank rejection of Jeff Williams in the Classic's opening
minute. Hextall interviewed Pelletier during the first intermission. Clarke did allow himself a smile -- not the toothless kind he sported while hoisting the Stanley Cup in 1974 -- when his son-in-law scored the opening goal.
White, who married Clarke's daughter Jody last summer, fired on Pelletier from in front of the crease. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound goalie made the pad save. The puck went right back to White, who knocked it to Pelletier's right and into the net just before Canadian teammate Randy
Robitaille was poised to snap it into the net.
Robitaille received initial credit, but replays correctly gave White the goal with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first period.
Phantom defenseman Sergei Klimentiev fired up the crowd less than 5 minutes into the game with a thundering open ice check for PlanetUSA. Montgomery, his Phantom teammate, didn't appreciate taking the hit.
Klimentiev flashed freely about the ice in his signature white skates. The Kiev native was a force on the offensive charge, but particularly stood out in the defensive end. At one point, he single- handedly dismantled a two-man attack going on behind Pelletier's roost.
Francis Bouillon of Fredericton knotted the game 6:36 into the second period. Herbert Vasiljevs of Kentucky gave PlanetUSA a 2-1 lead at the midway point of the game and Ken Gernander of Hartford made it 3-1 with 8:16 left in the middle period.
Third period goals by Jeff Williams and John Madden (of Albany, not Fox Sports) knotted the game with 10:51 remaining.
© Allentown Morning Call, 1/26/1999