A day after their stars roamed the ice in Columbus at the NHL All-Star Game, the Chicago Blackhawks saw two of their top prospects shine at the minor league level in the AHL All-Star Classic in Utica, New York.
Mark McNeill, who was the Blackhawks’ first round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, ended up with a hat trick in the contest. T.J. Brennan, the defenseman that the Blackhawks acquired in the trade that sent Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders just before the season began, also had a huge night, with a goal and four assists to his credit as the Western Conference All-Stars beat the Eastern Conference squad by a score of 14-12.
After Brendan Shinnimin got things off to a quick start for the East with a goal just three and a half minutes in, McNeill tied things up less than four minutes later. Just skating through the slot as Ryan Murphy got the puck at the point, McNeill left his stick blade on the ice and was rewarded when Murphy’s shot deflected off his stick and past Connor Hellebuyck to tie things up at 1-1.
The Western All-Stars scored two more goals to build up a 3-1 lead, but Shinnimin scored again to trim the lead to 3-2 late in the first period. With only seconds remaining however, Brennan jumped into the rush along with Ty Rattie and Phil Varone, and they broke into the offensive zone on a 3-on-0 breakaway. Varone made a nifty pass by kicking the puck over to Brennan on the other side of the ice, and the IceHogs’ defenseman then flipped a one-timer pass to Rattie in the middle. Rattie ended up potting the goal with just six seconds remaining in the period, and the West went into the intermission with a 4-2 lead.
Unfazed by the late goal, the East came roaring out of the gate in the second period as they scored four goals in the first five and a half minutes of the frame to take a 6-4 lead. Just like he had when the East got off to a hot start in the first, McNeill quashed the rally with a goal of his own, grabbing a rebound off his own shot and depositing the puck past Philipp Grubauer to make it a 6-5 game with about 12 minutes to go in the period.
After Charles Hudon scored his second goal of the game to tie things up at 6-6 nine minutes into the period, Brennan scored just 37 seconds later to give the West the lead back. Pinching in on a play once again, Brennan got the puck in near the goal crease and fired home a quick wrist shot to make it a 7-6 contest.
Ultimately, the Western Conference team scored six goals in a row to grab firm control of the game. Brennan picked up a secondary assist on Hudon’s third goal of the game, and at the end of two periods the West led by a score of 10-8.
The Western team maintained that edge throughout the third period, and McNeill ultimately got the game-winning goal with about six minutes remaining. After the puck pinballed around in front of the goal, McNeill picked up the loose puck and pushed home a shot, making it a 13-10 game and helping his team to the win.
McNeill and Brennan will have a few days off to rest and recuperate before the second half of the IceHogs’ season begins on Friday night with a tilt against the Chicago Wolves. The IceHogs are currently in the top spot in the Midwest Division, leading the Milwaukee Admirals by three points.