Thursday, January 21, 2010

ECHL All Star Game wrap-up

Ontario, CA - It was a night of firsts. The Ontario Reign, in just their second year, were hosting their first All Star game. Twenty-two of the 42 players in the game were rookies. And for the first time in ECHL history, the All Star game went to a shootout to determine the winner.

Scouts from nearly every NHL team were in the building, including Dave Taylor of the Dallas Stars. If it sounded weird in your head when you just read that, imagine how weird it was to type it. Dave Taylor, part of any organization other than the Los Angeles Kings will always seem like a typo.

While the real stars of the night were on the ice, kudos to the fans that actually showed up. The official attendance was 7,615, a few thousand above what the Reign have been averaging since they started play at Citizens Bank Arena in the fall of 2008. Still, for the opening face-off the building was barely half full. Unfortunately for the host team Southern California was in the middle of a multi-day rain storm, which usually keeps Angelenos home. People here think they will melt in the rain, unlike Buffalo where they'll sit outside in the snow to watch hockey.

Three Reign players made the team and two of them netted goals, Captain David Walker and 5'4" forward Peter Lenes. Their regular teammate (and former Kings draft pick), Greg Hogeboom, was kept off the score sheets entirely - although he was robbed on a breakaway early in the first. Had he scored, the National Conference would have led 1-0. Instead, the American Conference scored moments later and led at the first intermission 3-2.

During the introduction of players prior to the game some of the loudest cheers of the night could be heard for the diminutive Lenes...that is, until he scored less than two minutes into the second period to tie the game. The cheers were even louder. After the game he described the play "We were going to the net and tried to make a pass, it went off the goalie's pad and I just got the rebound, had the open net so..." When I asked him if he was aware the crowd was going crazy for him his response was "Yeah, it was awesome. Some of the guys on the bench were teasing me, they thought it was pretty funny. It's great when the fans are behind you and I wish we could have won for them."

The night got off to an unintentional funny start when the American Conference captain, JC Sawyer of Toledo, somehow tripped near a rug at the base of the bench as people were cleaning up after the ceremonial face-off at center ice. He fell like an eight year old on skates for the first time, causing the guy next to me to chirp "He just pulled a Legace." Sawyer was a minus four for the night and held to zero points in a game that was 9-9 after regulation. A rough night for a guy that leads all defenseman in the ECHL this season in goals and points.

Adam Miller of the Las Vegas Wranglers and Evan Barlow of the Idaho Steelheads both had four point nights, with matching lines of 2 goals and 2 assists. Near the end of regulation they collected my MVP ballot for the night. I backed the wrong horse by selecting Miller, the award went to Barlow.

After the game he had this to say about his play and the experience "We had some fun in the third. Miller has great speed and has a lot of vision, I think he's a heck of a player. It was fun playing with him."

The Americans were up 3-0 in the shootout (best of five format) when Barlow finally got the Nationals on the board. At that point he said he was trying to keep things alive and said "I was hoping Box (goaltender Richard Bachman, his teammate in Idaho) would come up big there, but they were able to sneak one past him."

Bachman was one of eight players in the game that are currently under contract with an NHL team -three of them with the Ducks. He's with Dallas, so if Turco gets traded (as rumored), he could be moving up to the AHL.

The Americans won the shootout 3-1 and the game 10-9.

All in all, a great time in Ontario. The staff there are wonderful and very accommodating, going out of there way to make sure everybody in the building has a good time.

One final note, both teams were wearing special All Star jerseys, of course. However, unlike most sports where the colors have nothing to do with the host city, both teams were wearing the Reign colors - orange and blue. It was a nice tie-in and a smart idea. The NHL should try something like that when their All Star game returns next year.

If you haven't been to a Reign game yet, give it a try. Tickets are inexpensive and the parking is free. You might like it. For tickets, special offers and game schedules visit

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