The ECHL All-Star Classic: King of All Gimmicks

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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.

ECHL 2015 All-Star Classic Primer

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Today marks the ECHL All-Star Classic, which you can watch FOR FREE either on the internet through ECHL.TV using the promo code CCMASC2015 or on one of the many networks this game will be broadcasted on either live or on tape delay. This year it is in Orlando, Florida and will have quite the interesting format, not just for the game– but the Skills Competition, as well. Not only that, but there’s a decent amount of young talent that will be on display, despite some of them being called-up to the AHL or leaving North America entirely.

First, the format– the game will harken back to that of the old NHL All-Star Games where there will be one team of All-Stars and a regular team to take them on. In the old NHL days it was the Stanley Cup Champions who were the opposing team, but for this instalment; the Orlando Solar Bears will take on the ECHL All Stars. Personally, I don’t see this being much of a match– a team who has been together for almost half a season against a thrown together team. Not to mention, who knows if there will be any physicality from the Solar Bears against the other All-Stars to make their road to the playoffs easier or vice versa. As far-fetched as it sounds, it still could happen….you never know….right??

I understand the reasoning behind it because it’s a far away step from your typical East vs. West format or something like the NHL’s “fantasy draft” they have going on. Yet, I still think the idea that the AHL had for their All-Star Game in 2014, where they played Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, is probably one of the better ideas because you get the best from one league to face off against somewhat challenging competition from another country.

Anyway, it’s a one-day shot for the entire All-Star concept. Therefore, during the intermissions of the game, the Skills Competition will take place and it’s only in two events. In one of the intermissions, the fastest skater competition will take place, while in the other– the hardest shot will take place. By all intents and purposes, you’d have to think that all the players that are at the event will be able to take part in this whole deal, but you never know what guys will opt out and just sit around chirping their peers from the bench.

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As far as those players who will be taking part, there’s quite the youth movement from the ECHL side. Nine of the 21 players named to the All-Star team are rookies, including Lukas Sutter (Stockton) and Tyler Fawcett (Brampton) who were named replacements for Connor Jones (called up to AHL) and Jack Combs (signed in Europe). Yet, the crazy part about this ECHL All-Star team is the fact that only one player from the top-10 in scoring is going to be playing in this event– rookie Tyler Barnes of Toledo who is sitting 6th in points (15g, 25a). The reserves of the team were determined by coaches who submit names of their own top prospects and other top prospects of the league could be. Of course, this makes me agree with Blake Sebring when he said that this shouldn’t be called an All-Star Game if the top players aren’t in there. If you don’t have ANY of your top-five scorers in the league on the roster– how can you call this an All-Star Game?? But I digress….to the goaltending where Joe Caanata of the Ontario Reign and Olivier Roy of the Idaho Steelheads should be able to get a lot of time to see some pucks, with Jeff Malcolm of the Greenville Road Warriors probably coming in late to clean up the game. While Caanata is the starter (though he’s only played 14 games in the ECHL this season), Roy is going into the game leading the league with 20 wins and 3rd in GAA, while Malcolm is carrying a solid 15-8-0-0 on a team with two solid goalies.

The Solar Bears, for their part, aren’t the most explosive team as they sit 6th in the East Division, one game over .500 on the season and only with a +1 goal differential heading into this game. Only Greg Miller has goals in the double-digits (14) with Jacob Cepis and Denver Manderson being the only regulars having a point-per-game on the team. Also, Manderson and Brock Montgomery lead the team in power-play goals with three. The goaltending has been somewhat solid with Garret Sparks and Maxime Clermont being back together a tandem. As they go into this game on a two-game winning streak and 6-3-1-0 in their last 10 games; the Solar Bears should be well prepared as they take on this disjointed bunch of prospects. Some other names you may know on the Solar Bears roster are former NHLers Yann Sauve and Carson McMillan, World Juniors stand-out Stefan Della Rovere, and brother of Phil; Blake Kessel.

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However this may pan out, the festivities should be a solid time and if you do have the time to catch it for free on the internet or TV; it’s probably going to be worth your while in order to get a look at the future and what the ECHL has to offer in terms of game-speed and skill-set.