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Cheers and jeers: Local players and rivals have differing experiences at the AHL Skills Challenge

Anthony Richard, Gabriel Dumont, and Joseph Woll generated the most fan reactions.

AHL: FEB 05 All-Star Classic Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Anthony Richard was revelling in his first All-Star experience in the American Hockey League. The Laval Rocket forward not only appreciated the home crowd but wanted to deliver for them. After the AHL Skills Challenge, when he finished third in the Fastest Skater competition, he was talking about his last turn that he says probably cost him a few tenths.

Despite that, he set a time of 13.322, which after Sunday night was the fourth fastest time ever set at the AHL event.

The Trois-Rivières native said he had close to 40 friends and family come to the event.

“Ninety percent of my game is about my legs and in warmup I felt that my legs were heavy from the weekend and the travel,” Richard said. “I knew I needed to give an extra push. In the second turn I glided a little too much and when you want to be fast you need to keep crossing over so I lost a little bit of time, but overall as the first time timing myself on one lap I’m happy the way it went.”

In the breakaway challenge he and Alex Belzile decided that since the fans showed them so much love, they were going to try and put on a show for them. Richard tried a Pavel Bure-like deke, but missed the kick back to his stick. Belzile, for his part, batted the puck with the blade of his stick up in the air, then flipped the stick around and tried to bat the puck in with the knob of his stick. The shot was saved by San Diego Gulls goaltender Lukas Dostal.

One shot that wasn’t saved was the breakaway taken by eight-year-old Mateo Dumont, the son of Eastern Conference captain and former Montreal Canadiens player Gabriel. Dumont was supposed to go second in the group, but asked to go last to give his son the spotlight. Nobody objected, and it provided one of the best moments of the night.

The shot went five-hole on Dostal, and Mateo followed it up with a big celebration, putting his hand up to his ear as the goal horn went off and the crowd erupted.

“We’re going to have to talk about that when we get home. I keep telling him enough with the celebrations… These kids now these days, they’re watching YouTube and what not… They see a lot… He’s just a kid,” Dumont laughed. “We’ll say he was caught up in the emotion.”

Dumont had both of his sons, Mateo and the six-year-old Lucas on the ice and was thinking how he could involve them. He thought about using them as passers when he took part in the accuracy shooting competition, but worried about a puck hitting the post and them being in a dangerous spot. Only one of his children could take the breakaway, though.

“I was a little scared about what his younger brother was going to say but he thought it was so cool that he didn’t realize that his brother went on the breakaway… He thought the rest was so cool with the music and everything, he didn’t even care.”

Dumont says that as much as kids love being around the rink and enjoy hockey (he says they are best friends with the entire team and walk around the Crunch arena in Syracuse like they own the place), it was important that they didn’t just play hockey and makes sure they play other sports. Dumont also took coaching courses to ensure he can be on the ice with them as much as possible even while the 32-year-old is still playing professionally.

“It’s amazing. Just making memories for him. It’s something he’ll never forget,” he said about how he felt as a father watching Mateo take the shot. “I have all the parents back home with his team watching on TV because to all their kids I’m just coach Dumont, I’m not that big of a deal and then all of a sudden they see me on TV while watching and they see Mateo go on a breakaway and score at the AHL All-Star Game,” he said. “They did great. I’m really proud of them,” he said of his sons.

Mateo had some fans in the Eastern Conference locker room too.

“He scored on me in warmup,” said Toronto Marlies goaltender Joseph Woll, laughing. “I was pretty lucky I didn’t have to face him in the challenge. He’s got a pretty good shot for his age.”

“I told the guys on the ice that I hope there are scouts here, he’s going to have a good ranking for the QMJHL draft in a few years,” said Anthony Richard.

Dumont wasn’t expecting being the President’s choice for the captain of the Eastern Conference while veteran defenceman Brian Lashoff was the choice for the Western Conference.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Dumont said. “I missed the call from the president of the league and I thought to myself ‘what did I do?’… I thought I was in trouble but when I found out I was really happy and especially it being in Laval was the cherry on top.”

The rivalry between the Rocket and Crunch has grown over the years, leaving Dumont surprised that he got the reception he did from the Laval fans. The Marlies players, for instance, were booed every time they took part in a challenge.

“We expected more to get the welcome that Toronto got, but it shows that in Quebec, Quebecers stick together and the crowd was there for us,” Dumont said.

The Marlies player who received the most boos was goaltender Joseph Woll, and he was loving every minute of it, embracing the reaction and he ended up winning the night’s Top Goaltender challenge by making 15 saves on 18 shots through three goaltending competitions.

“I loved it,” Woll said with a big smile on his face. “It’s pretty fun for us, especially the Toronto guys getting a nice warm welcome.”

Being part of the Eastern Conference you’d think the crowd would be on his side, but it didn’t work out that way.

“No it didn’t,” Woll laughed. “Not for the Marlies guys… It’s understandable.”

The Rocket and Marlies could be on a collision course for a potential playoff series, as well.

“It’d be pretty awesome. I said it before the event, this is one of the coolest places to play in my life, not just the American league. It’s an awesome fan base and an amazing building and I love the energy here. It’s amazing.”

On Monday, during the All-Star Challenge Woll will be on the North Division team giving him another chance to get on the good side of the Laval crowd.

“Maybe I’ll win their hearts, we’ll see… I’ll do my best,” Woll said. When it was pointed out that he’ll be wearing the same jersey of the Rocket players he laughed. “Maybe they’ll get confused or something and they won’t know it’s me. I’ll hope for that.”

The All-Star Challenge will start Monday at 7:00 p.m. It will be broadcast on NHL Network in the United States, TSN and RDS in Canada, plus AHL TV Worldwide. It will also be on 98.9 Sports radio in Montreal.