I enjoy a good gimmick– whether it be in the wrestling world or in the hockey lexicon where things are tinkered with to get some kind of appeal to the masses. Shootout, skills competitions, outdoor games– I enjoy it all. This is why when I look at the ECHL All-Star Classic, it’s a tailor-made for someone who likes all kinds of wacky BS in their hockey games.
First, it’s one vs. all in this, as the Adirondack Thunder take on the ECHL All-Stars. That’s right– one team vs. the best of the best from the rest of the league. Right off the bat, you have to think it’s a bit outmatched, but the All-Stars have precious little practice time ahead of the game, while the Thunder actually know what they’re going to be doing in all of this.
Second, the game itself is a hodge-podge of different things. The first half (yes, half) is 25 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. Just like a normal period, but five minutes longer. The half-time show is going to be the skills competition that includes the hardest shot, fastest skater, and the skills relay. Following that, the second 25-minute half will consist of ten minutes of 5-on-5, then five minutes of 4-on-4, then topped off with ten minutes of 3-on-3 action. For a more visual aspect, here’s an infographic the ECHL put out.
The only thing this thing is missing is the outdoor game element and this would be the Gimmick Grand Slam.
You have to hand it to the ECHL, as they are making their every-other-year showcase stand out from what the NHL and AHL are doing, which is using divisional aspects to their all-star teams, while also having a tournament feel to the process. The ECHL All-Star Classic is more akin to the Canada/Russia Challenge that the Canadian Major Juniors play, pitting remnants of the Russia U-20 team against the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL.
Yet, the most important thing is that even with all the gimmicks; the ECHL All-Star Classic will be broadcasted on the NHL Network. This will give the NHL-only fan a chance to not only see young, undiscovered prospects in the hockey world, but to give them a taste of ECHL hockey if they don’t often pay attention to the lower minor leagues. That kind of exposure benefits the league and players, hopefully getting some fans another option for their hockey dollar should their local team be out of town for a stretch or just plain out stink for the season.
While the rules may be convoluted and very out of the ordinary– the fact remains that people who usually scoff at the idea of All-Star Games can maybe let this game into their hearts and see how it goes for them. Maybe the one-night gala that happens every two years will be something for them and could give ideas to some other leagues who may need the help garnering attention for the league and its stars.