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Laval confirmed itself as a top AHL market with the All-Star Classic

There was a reason the AHL was excited to come to Quebec, and they didn’t disappoint.

AHL: FEB 06 All-Star Classic

Toronto Marlies goaltender Joseph Woll said it was one of his favourite places to play. Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Joel Hofer said it reminded him of last year’s playoffs. The crowd and atmosphere at Place Bell was well known to teams in the Eastern Conference, but over the weekend, the entire AHL got to see what it is like first hand.

“It was unbelievable,” said co-MVP Lukas Dostal, who plays for the San Diego Gulls. “I was so surprised with the environment, with the rink, this locker room is for the away team and we have a gym, we have everything. Everybody is going to say it. The rink is an NHL rink, just a smaller size... you add 5,000 seats and it could be an NHL rink. It feels like an NHL rink to be honest.”

The crowd during the final tournament game between the North Division and the Atlantic Division truly had it all. Even though it was an All-Star game, it definitely didn’t feel like one, especially listening to the crowd. You had the crowd taunting the opposing goaltender by chanting ‘HOFER’, vigorously booing the referees for both penalties called and missed, opponents being booed for wasting time, and an absolute eruption when the tying goal was scored in the dying seconds by the home team.

“It was definitely a fun event, the fans made it that much better,” said Hofer, who took the taunting in stride as he did during last year’s Eastern Conference final. “Every time we come here it’s always a packed barn and lots of fun with lots of energy.”

Players who were at the event, or even who were watching on TV can see the passion that the fans brought. It can even be somewhat of a recruiting tool. Anthony Richard was a member of the Syracuse Crunch last year and played in Laval as an opponent during the playoffs.

“Just the atmosphere at Place Bell was awesome,” Richard said last July when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens. “My family and friends were there and it felt like we were playing in the NHL. It meant a lot in my decision. It’s a huge honour to play there, the fans are really passionate about the team and the building is almost packed every night. It’s a exciting that we’ll live an NHL atmosphere even in the AHL or even at the Bell Centre.”

He talked about the impression it left on him again during the weekend, and it’s possible some players will keep the Canadiens organization or the Rocket top of mind when it comes to their decision.

“Guys from the Western Conference, their first time here, they’ll see it’s pretty loud here,” said Richard.

“We have such a great facility here,” said Rocket forward Alex Belzile before Sunday’s skills competition. “The room, the tubs and everything, I’m sure for other teams who come here they’ll appreciate Place Bell and how loud it’s going to get.”

It took three years for Laval to finally host the game that was announced in 2019, and from the fans to the organization ran an event that was top notch. It’s the type of event that can put a market on the map and establish it as a model AHL franchise, and it surely won’t be the last time the event will be held at Place Bell.