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.

First Month in the Sin Bin

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So, it’s been a month since I joined TheSinBin.net and it’s been pretty solid overall. Here’s what you may have been missing if you haven’t checked it out yet.

-The Stockton Heat not only are going through a change on the ice in their league play, but also off the ice in renovations to get the Stockton Arena up to AHL caliber.

-The AHL schedule was announced and boy howdy, it’s as bad as you think it was and it will cause a plenty of confusion with math and stuff to determine the playoffs.

-With the possibility of expansion in the NHL, it means the AHL and ECHL will need expansion as well to have a “One Team, One Affiliation” gimmick going. Hat Trick Consultants are looking at different markets to see what is actually viable.

-And, it’s two weeks– so the podcast is up and going.

It’s been a great time and the people there have been super supportive and we’ve been noticed– with is the main goal. Hope you keep coming along for the journey.

New League, Same Result for Americans

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It’s one thing to come into a new league at the last minute and be successful to the next change. It’s a completely different thing to come into a league, be successful, appear to be solidly dominant during the playoffs, and then win a championship in the process. However, the Allen Americans did just that and took home their third championship in as many years with a 6-1 win in Game 7 over the South Carolina Stingrays to claim the Kelly Cup.

Granted, towards the end– you could see either fatigue or competition start to get to the Americans. The Ontario Reign seemed to give them some trouble in the Conference Finals and the Stingrays gave them all they could; but even through it all– the Americans were able to bear down and push through their adversity to win the title.

When you look at how the Americans did it, the scoring and heroics came from different sources. Gregor Hanson won the MVP of the playoffs for his stellar offensive output (12g, 17a), which continued from his consistent performance during the season. Chad Costello was dominant during the regular season, but did slow up his torrid pace in the playoffs with only 28 points in 25 games (9g, 19a), while Gary Steffes was very silent in the playoffs after having a solid regular season. Coach Steve Martinson had a goalie carousel for a decent amount of the playoffs with Riley Gill finally winning out as his go-to guy; despite Joel Rumpel playing solid in his time on the ice and was helpful to the Americans performance.

The one thing that did seem interesting is the fact that after getting out of the Central Division, the Americans were able to see the true talent of the ECHL– though it was deep in the playoffs and fatigue was able to set in. That said, Coach Martinson was right when he said to me this was a team geared up and ready to take over the ECHL— which what they did. It also helped that guys like Spencer Asuchak came back to the line-up and Chris Crane was able to step-up and contribute as he was able to do.

For the next act, the Americans are going to have a nice task to get through the entire ECHL. No one will sleep in them (if they even did before) and they’ll be hard-pressed to retain players in the ECHL since you can assume that Costello and Asuchak will be highly looked at for AHL gig. Lucky for the Americans is that they’ll be a prime destination for players coming into the ECHL or for free agents looking for a solid place to play. So, if the San Jose Sharks do call a lot of guys to play on the Barracuda– the cupboard should be restocked pretty quickly by Martinson.

To have a team that has won three championships in three years– the fan base has been treated to some great things from this team and they turned out in a big way in Game 7 in order to make sure the Americans had the home-ice advantage. They have been treated to some great hockey and really haven’t known much of losing– which could be a good thing for them or a bad thing if it should happen in the next season or two. It doesn’t look like it would happen or that the organization would let it happen– but it’s always a case of injury or bad luck that could derail this dynasty of a team that Allen has right now.

When all is said and done with this era of hockey in Texas, the Allen Americans are going to be on the top of the list for what they have given to the minor league hockey community and help contribute to hockey gaining popularity in a region that’s primed for the picking when it comes to harvesting new talent for USA Hockey in the future.

Farm Report Podcast 06.10.15

Better late than never for this Farm Report edition, as Scotty goes over the playoff fantasticness. The Utica area has been brought alive by the play of the Comets and the city is regaining some pride because of it. Looking forward to 2016, the Oklahoma City area is primed to be picked for minor league hockey; which is something that will happen sooner rather than later. It’s been a while for Scott Ford when it comes to getting to a championship series again, but he’s making sure he enjoyed every moment of the South Carolina Stingrays’ run. The FHL is a mess…and Scotty is trying to make sense of the league as a whole. All that, News and Notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Farm Report Podcast: 05.31.15

We’re getting closer to the end, with the playoffs wrapping up– Scotty talks about the Kelly Cup finalists and one-half of the Calder Cup finalists. Anthony Mantha is facing heat for his lackluster first professional season, while Dave Andrews talks about the AHL realignments and how the New York teams were necessarily going to be grouped in the same division, plus confirming the California teams will get less games. Speaking of California, Bakersfield and the Condors are gearing up for the AHL frontier, while Syracuse is gearing up for the AHL All-Star Game. All that, plus News and Notes, as well as We Hardly Knew Ye.

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ECHL Playoffs: Kelly Cup Finals

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(1C) Allen Americans vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays

It’s all down to this. Through the entire playoffs and two epic Game 7s in the Conference Finals; the Allen Americans will host their first Kelly Cup Finals game today against the South Carolina Stingrays. Right off the bat, the fact that the Americans will host the first three games mean that the momentum could be swung in Allen’s favor very quickly, so long as they take the advantage of home-ice.

One of the keys for the Allen Americans success will depend on how the goaltending in the Finals will be. There has been a bit of a consistency issue with Riley Gill and Joel Rumpel, but after setting down in Game 5 on the Conference Finals, Gill seems to have gotten to take over the crease. They will have to be on their game because they are facing the ECHL MVP in Jeff Jakaitis at the other end. Jakaitis hasn’t as on point as he was in the regular season– but his ability to make the big save and keep the Stingrays close has helped them through a pretty grueling playoffs so far with the team.

Scoring hasn’t been much of a problem for either team, however– as both squads have 67 goals these playoffs with South Carolina averaging 3.35 goals per game and Allen having a slightly better 3.72 mark. The Stingrays have gotten scoring all over, but none more surprising that from Joe Devin, who is tied with Andrew Rowe for the team lead in goals with 11. Devin only put up 17 goals in his 48 regular season appearances, but with a stable line-up spot; he has been able to turn up the offense when his team needed it the most. That is to say nothing of the leading scorer in South Carolina– Wayne Simpson, who has 22 assists and 31 points heading into the final round. Rookie Derek DeBlois has played well in his first go-round, posting three game-winners this off-season.

For the Americans, the scoring from Chad Costello and Gary Steffes has been there; but hasn’t been as frequent as it was during the regular season. Luckily, Gregor Hanson has been able to pick up the goal-scoring “slack” so to speak. A big addition to the roster was when Spencer Asuchak was returned from time with Providence and Worcester in the AHL. Asuchak has come back in and put up 18 points in 18 playoff games. Another welcome surprise is the play of winger Chris Crane, who has seven goals and 12 points in his 18 games, providing some secondary scoring for the Americans.

Defensively, it’s another even match-up, with both sides getting some output on the power play from their blue-line. Konrad Abeltshauser has been a solid defenseman for the Americans, putting up three power play goals, with rookie Justin Baker stepping up at the right time. One of the interesting things is how Aaron Gens hasn’t been as offensive effective, but has played a solid game in his own end. If he’s waiting for the right moment to strike– the Finals will be the best place.

Both Drew MacKenzie and Michal Cajkovsky have been the force for the Stingrays defense on the scoresheet, but overall– the Stingrays haven’t been on point in their own end. That could be due to lack of experience with three rookies in the line-up back on defense with Frankie Simonelli, Marcus Perrier, and Wade Epp. Though they have been able to get this far, who knows if the inexperience and possible tiredness will be the undoing of them.

Coaching could play a role in all of this, too. Amercians’ coach Steve Martinson has had playoff success in the past winning four WCHL titles, two CHL titles, and one UHL title; though none of those leagues no longer exist. Martinson and the Americans are in their third-straight finals and with some of those players still on the roster know the grind. South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery has been in this situation as a player, where he has won a Kelly Cup in 2009 as a member of the Stingrays; but has never gotten this far as a coach in his young coaching career. It will be interesting to see if Carbery’s playing experience can match the experience behind the bench that Martinson has.

In a playoff with plenty of excitement behind it; this match-up could put the cherry on top. With great stories on both sides– Allen being the new kid in town and South Carolina trying to end out their dream season– the Finals will create a lot of intrigue and something that not many fans would want to miss out on.

The Epicness of the ECHL’s Eastern Conference Finals

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Photo via the South Carolina Stingrays’ Facebook

You could say that the Eastern Conference finals in the ECHL was one for the ages.

The South Carolina Stingrays went up three games to none, looking like they would have their first playoff sweep since 2009. However, the Toledo Walleye had other plans and came back to tie up the series setting up for an epic Game 7. To that point, every game was a one-goal game with Game 6 ending with rookie sensation Tyler Barnes scoring the overtime winner to see if they could come all way the way back.

Then Game 7 actually did happen and it was more than anyone could have ever expected.

It was a chess match of biblical proportions in front of the standing room only crowd of 8,300 in the Huntington Center in Toledo. The Walleye started off strong, taking control in the first half of regulation, trying to make sure the momentum they had from not only Game 6, but from coming all the way back didn’t wear off. Justin Mercier had the best chance for the Walleye, breaking in on Jeff Jakaitis with plenty of room to move, but being denied. That could have been when the Stingrays decided to up the pressure on their on midway through the second period and into the third, dominating the Walleye in their own end, forcing Jeff Lerg to come up big in his own net.

The end of regulation saw this would be the seventh one-goal game of the series and make sure fans on both sides were clutching at their rally towels tightly.

The first overtime was frantic and thanks to some skill (and luck from his posts), Jakaitis was able to withstand the flurry of shots the Walleye were able to put forth, while down the other end; Lerg came up as big for his side– though he didn’t have to be as acrobatic as his counterpart. The 26 shots generated by both teams in that frame showed that it was run-and-gun with both teams hoping that if they fired enough at the net– something would be made of it.

With a little bit of a tighter checking second overtime, it brought about the only power play. Troy Schwab of the Walleye was called for hooking at the mid-point of the 2nd OT, but the Stingrays couldn’t convert– which gave the Walleye a bit of a momentum boost. The Walleye took that boost and peppered Jakaitis after that, putting seven shots on him– including one that almost squirted through his legs, but the defense was able to push it back under Jakaitis to keep the game even through two overtimes.

You could sense something was going to happen. The teams had already played the longest Game 7 in ECHL history and during the 3rd OT, they would have played the longest 0-0 game in ECHL playoff history. Something had to give. Early on, it was almost the Stingrays who gave it up entirely. Thanks to some great puck movement, the Walleye were able to draw the Stingrays’ defense on one side, opening up Martin Frk on the opposite wing for a tremendous opportunity….but whether the puck when on end or just bad luck; Frk put it over the net keeping the game knotted at one.

Then “Mighty” Joe Devin got a pass from Caleb Herbert…..and Stingrays broadcaster Joe Zakrzewski can tell you the rest.¬†(The Monumental Sports Network also posted the video evidence)

For the Walleye– it was a heart-breaking defeat; but one during a season they shouldn’t be ashamed of. Under a new head coach (and Coach of the Year) in Derek Lalonde and with a stable affiliation, the Walleye were able to take home the Brabham Cup for top regular season points. They had the Rookie of the Year in Tyler Barnes and turned the horrid season from last year around to a Conference Finals this year– with even bigger things for next season.

For the Stingrays, it is their fourth Bud Gingher Memorial Trophy for Eastern Conference champions and it lines them up for a shot at their fourth Kelly Cup and first since 2009. For a team that had a storybook year during the 23-game winning streak, having the MVP in Jeff Jakaitis, and plenty of momentum– their toughest task in facing the Allen Americans and having to deal with the first three games on the road could prove to be a mental feat to get over– as well as a physical one.

Regardless of that, this Game 7 was tabbed as an instant classic by many and you’ll find it hard pressed to find anyone who thinks differently.