A classic ‘All-Star’ hails from Hope

Jeff Hoggan of Hope has been chosen to play in the American Hockey League's All-Star Classic in Syracuse, New York

Jeff Hoggan (above) has been chosen to play for the American Hockey League's All-Star Classic in Syracuse on February 1

He’s Hope Minor Hockey’s most famous product — and he’s set to add one more notch to his memory stick in a sport he learned to love at the local rink and on the streets of Hope.

Jeff Hoggan has been chosen as a playing captain for the American Hockey League’s All-Star Classic, February 1 in Syracuse, New York. Hoggan, in his fourth year of wearing the C for the Grand Rapids Griffins, will serve as captain of the Western Conference all-stars.

Hoggan’s coach, Todd Nelson said last Friday, “Jeff is a consummate professional. There’s a reason why he’s been playing hockey all these years and there’s a reason why he’s a big part of our hockey team: he’s a great captain, a great leader in our room — and he’s very valuable to us. Seeing him get the chance to play in an all-star game is a tremendous honor and well-deserved.”

Catching up on his e-mail, Sunday evening, Hoggan said he heard about the selection from the league president, Dave Andrews.

“He called to inform me of the honour and my immediate feelings were of appreciation,” said Hoggan. “You play this game long enough and you realize how fast the game can pass you by. At this age (37) I’m grateful for every day I get to work with the Red Wings’ top prospects and am certainly going to relish a moment to be recognized in an all-star appearance and skate with the next wave of top-end players that will move on from this league to the NHL.

“I typically view the All-Star break as a chance to spend time with my family, to rest, recover and recharge — if that’s even possible with three boys under age seven — but this isn’t something you pass up.

“We’ll be taking the whole crew to New York to enjoy together, which makes it even more special.”

Hoggan and his wife Chevonne have three sons, Hunter, Cam and Quinn. Hoggan’s parents, Gerry and Ann will be staying home in Hope, watching the game on TV, or via the internet.

There have been lots of congratulations from his family and friends — but one his most devoted followers, Darwin Ortis, wants to be there to see his friend skate in his first professional all-star game.

“I cannot miss a chance to see a guy that grew up in our little town, play at something as special as this,” said Ortis, Sunday. “To actually play in an all-star game for a league that is arguably the second best league in the world? It’s pretty unreal when you think about his path.

“I just think it says so much about him and his family, to work this hard and to still be playing after all these years. It’s remarkable, really. My son Ryan wears number 10 (Hoggan’s number) for hockey and baseball and thinks it’s pretty cool that he knows a professional hockey player.”

Ortis and son flew out to Grand Rapids to see Hoggan play, last season.

“It was such an amazing experience for both of us,” said Ortis. “The way he is respected and viewed as a role model in that community wasn’t what I expected. He’s the face of that franchise.

“I remember him as the kid we’d play street hockey with all day — him and his brothers.  It was always a matter of time before a Hoggan brother donnybrook would break out and the rest of us would scatter.

“To see what he has become first hand was very special. My wife signed off on another father-son trip.

Another reason to celebrate on All-Star day; it’s Hoggan’s 38th birthday.

“I can’t say I’ve always been a leader, as I think you continue to grow as person and player along the way,” said Hoggan. “Sure, I wore a letter in junior and at college — but more so by taking pride in working hard and leading by example.

“I’ve been keen to learn from successful leaders throughout my career, observing those that are winners and respected amongst their peers. There’s a long list of people to give credit to for teaching me things — some directly, some without even saying a word. You never stop learning in this game. Being open-minded to others’ input, no matter how smart a veteran you think you are, is a big reason I’m still around to receive this honour and opportunity,” said the left-winger.

Like the NHL’s 2016 all-star game, the AHL is changing from the normal 5-on-5 format this year. There will be four teams in a round-robin tournament, playing 4-on-4 for 9-minute games. The winners go on to a 6-minute final game of 3-on-3.

“Believe me, it’s not a pleasant thought having to chase around the top skill guys of this league with that much open ice. I can still skate with most in north and south directions — but I may have to pull out a crafty-old-guy hook or trip when these kids start dangling left and right ­— kidding, of course.

“My offensive strategy is to align myself with two dominant young guys and just pass them the puck.”

Hoggan says he isn’t necessarily alluding to retirement when he says, “Knowing my playing days are coming to end, I’m just going soak it all in with a smile.

“I’m just taking it day by day and time will tell. It’s been a great run and ending it on your own terms and not by someone’s on the business side, is something every player would like to do.”