It’s a long haul from Arizona to Springfield, Mass., especially when one is making an overnight trip after playing in a pair of hockey games in less than a 24-hour span.
But Bakersfield Condors players Joe Gambardella and Cooper Marody did just that, flying out of Tucson on Saturday evening to compete in the AHL Lexus All-Star Classic.
And no doubt they had smiles on their faces. After all, the Condors ended the pre-All Star portion of their schedule with an AHL franchise-high eight straight wins.
But now it’s all about fun, at least for a couple of days, then some R&R before the Condors return to action at home against Iowa on Friday night.
The skills competition portion of the two-day event takes place today at 4 p.m. and can bee seen on the NHL network or AHL TV. The All Star Challenge takes place Monday at 4 p.m. and can be viewed live on the NHL Network or on AHLTV.
“It’s a big privilege to be a part of (the All Star Classic) but I wouldn’t be there without the success of not only my teammates, but my linemates, Patrick Russell and Brad Malone as well,” Gambardella said. “Without them there is no success at all.”
Gambardella is from Staten Island, N.Y, close enough that numerous friends and family will be in attendance. He played four years for the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
“I’m really excited to get up to Massachusetts and back on the East Coast so I’ll get to see my family,” he said.
Gambardella is tied with Josh Currie for most Bakersfield goals with 19. He recently played in his first National Hockey League game for Edmonton and is currently on a six-game point streak for the Condors (7 goals, 3 assists).
“It was a dream come true, the best feeling in the world,” Gambardella, who was not drafted, said of playing in the NHL. “It’s something I’ve always wished for and wanted to happen.”
Marody, a rookie, was a late addition to the game and, like Gambardella, will have some family in attendance.
“It’s a tremendous honor and I’m looking forward to it as well as my family,” he said. “My parents and little brother are going to be able to come down (from Michigan) so they’re excited and I’m excited about that.”
Marody, from Brighton, Mich., turned pro after three years at the University of Michigan. He is second on the Condors in points with 32 (nine goals, 23 assists), and recently had a seven-game point streak snapped.
Now he gets to have a little fun with some of the guys he’s been battling all season.
“There’s a lot of skilled guys and a lot of talent in this league, especially the Pacific Division, so it’ll be cool to join forces for a couple of games,” he said.
And being there with a teammate makes it even sweeter.
“I’m really looking forward to having someone I know there,” Marody said. “And (Gambardella) has definitely earned it. He’s had a fantastic year. He’s a fantastic guy and a great player.”
The All-Star Challenge features 3-on-3 hockey with each of the four divisions playing one another in a six-game round-robin. Each of those games will be 10 minutes with a break at the five-minute mark to allow teams to switch goaltenders.
The two teams with the best win-loss record square off in a six-minute championship game.