By Mark Simon
Special to NHL.com
January 24, 2004
Peoria Rivermen forward Randy Rowe and Trenton Titans goaltender Chris Houle were happy just to be playing in the ECHL All-Star game this past week, let alone making a significant impact.
Rowe scored two goals and notched an assist to earn MVP honors in front of a hometown crowd as the Eastern Conference rallied from a three-goal, third-period deficit to edge the Western Conference, 7-6, at Carver Arena in Peoria, Ill.
The 23-year-old Rowe went from a checking-line forward in his first season in the league to one of the top scorers in the ECHL this season. This isn’t easy in the Northern Division, where five teams have allowed fewer than 100 goals this season (no other division has more than one team that has done that). Rowe has 24 goals and 19 assists for 43 points in 37 games for the Rivermen, who are in third place behind Wheeling and Atlantic City with a 22-10-7 mark.
“It’s a tough division to score points in,” Rowe said. “The Northern Division is more of the hard-nosed division. It’s more defensive hockey.”
That’s where Houle has thrilved in a brief stint. Houle hadn’t seen a lot of time in the ECHL this season, but he made enough of an impression to earn the selection. In eight games with Trenton, he posted a 5-3-0 record, a 1.64 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage. Even with Houle, Trenton has struggled this season, sitting in eighth-place in the nine-team Northern Division with a 16-15-3 mark.
The 21-year-old Houle stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period, after his teammates gave up six goals in the first two periods. Houle was released by Cleveland of the AHL Sunday night, but then signed a two-way deal with the Philadelphia Phantoms and Titans. He’ll report to the Phantoms this weekend, where he tended to two periods of shutout hockey earlier this season, and serve as their backup goaltender.
“I definitely wasn’t going to miss the All-Star Game,” Houle said. “I guess it worked out pretty well.”
Houle is an interesting story in that his heritage is both French-Canadien and Creole Indian, having grown up on the Buffalo Lake Metis reservation in Alberta. Houle and players like Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray and former ECHL star Vern Fiddler are among hockey’s Native success stories.
“It’s a privilege both to play hockey and to be a Creole,” said Houle, who played junior hockey for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, under head coach Dale Hunter. “Not many Indian players make it. I’m trying to be a role model for a lot of the young kids out there that are trying.”
The Eastern Conference also won the Skills Competition, beating the Western Conference, 11-10. The East dominated the team events, winning both Puck Control Relays, the Accuracy Shooting competition, and the Breakaway Relay. South Carolina’s Kevin Spiewak won the fastest skater prize, circling the rink in 14.166 seconds. Louisiana’s Ben Storey took hardest shot honors, firing one at 96.3 mph. Louisiana IceGators goalie Frederic Cloutier won the Outstanding Goaltender Award for the night.