UTICA, N.Y. — Montreal Canadiens draft pick Charles Hudon is off to a an impressive start in his first professional season.
On Monday night, he put an exclamation point on that performance.
Hudon was one of three players to record a hat trick for the Western Conference in a 14-12 victory over the Eastern Conference in the AHL All-Star Classic. He shared MVP honours with goalie Jacob Markstrom of the host Utica Comets, the minor-league affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.
Hudon, a fifth-round pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has 11 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs, the most points of any rookie in the AHL.
"I’m surprised," Hudon said. "Since the start of the season, everything has happened for me. I just have to continue working like I have from the start."
It was the highest-scoring all-star game in league history, breaking the record of 25 combined goals set in 2009, as the AHL followed the lead of their NHL big brothers, who set a record with a 29-goal all-star game the night before.
Brendan Leipsic of the Milwaukee Admirals and Mark McNeill of the Rockford IceHogs also had hat tricks for the Western Conference. Ty Rattie of the Chicago Wolves and Rockford’s T.J. Brennan had a goal and three assists each. Emile Poirier, Drew Shore and Teemu Pulkkinen also scored for the West.
Shane Prince of the Binghamton Senators, an Ottawa prospect in his third pro season, had a hat trick for the Eastern Conference. Brendan Shinnimin struck twice, while Joe Whitney, Chris Bourque, Jonathan Marchessault, Jordan Weal, Chris Wagner, Austin Madaisky and Alexander Khokhlachev rounded out the attack.
With the Western Conference clinging to a one-goal lead with seven minutes left in the third period, Oklahoma City goalie Richard Bachman stopped Portland’s Shinnimin on a breakaway. Leipsic and McNeill completed their hat tricks in the next 53 seconds as the West pulled away.
"The first period was like a game on the lake. It was pretty nice," Hudon said. "The third period was pretty hard. Our goalie made some saves at the end. That helped a lot."
Markstrom stopped 16-of-18 shots in the first period. The only Eastern Conference player to beat him was Shinnimin, who scored twice.
A 6-foot-6 second-round draft pick, the 24-year-old Markstrom is second in the AHL in goals-against average and save percentage. He said the all-star affair was not at all similar to a regular-season game.
"There was a puck. It was five-on-five. There were boards and ice and teammates. That’s about it," he joked.
Still, as the shot total mounted in the first period, Markstrom found himself not wanting to surrender any more goals.
"You put 40 hockey players out there, you don’t want to lose," Markstrom said.
After falling behind 6-4, the Western Conference reeled off six unanswered goals in a seven-minute span of the second period to go out in front, 10-6. The run ended when Hudon popped a puck up to himself to split two defenders and beat Manchester goalie Jean-Francois Berube with the backhand move Peter Forsberg made famous in the 1994 Olympics.
"During a game, it was my first time (using the move)," Hudon said. "Berube is a friend of my family. We know each other from back in Montreal. It was a great moment."
There were two penalty shots in the game.
After being hooked by the East’s Wagner on a breakaway, Rochester’s Phil Varone was stopped by Berube in the second period.
In the third, after being hooked by the West’s Brennan, Wagner converted on his penalty shot, beating Bachman with a slap shot from the right hash marks. Wagner’s goal brought the East to within one goal at 11-10 with 13:56 to go, but the West never gave up the lead.