By Leo Scaglione, Jr., The Fischler Report
Pucks, pictures, publications, jerseys and autographs.
These are just a handful of the mementos that people were able to take with them after the 2017 ECHL All-Star Classic, which was played on January 18 in Glens Falls, New York, following a pair of special events.
Most important, though, will be what they can’t touch – the memories and the impact the two-day celebration delivered to the region.
The festivities preceding the Classic commenced in Lake George the night prior to the game at the Fort William Henry Hotel, where the ECHL hosted FanFest. The following afternoon, the event shifted across the hotel grounds for the 10th Annual ECHL Hall of Fame Luncheon, before it concluded that evening at Glens Falls Civic Center with the skills competition and the game – an 8-7 victory by the ECHL All-Stars over the host Adirondack Thunder.
At FanFest, fans mingled with players, took pictures of exhibits displayed by the Hockey Hall of Fame, touched prestigious hockey hardware -- including the Vezina, Hart and 1996 World Cup of Hockey trophies and the Kelly, Calder and Stanley Cups – and participated in activities that measured the speed and accuracy of their (mostly) wrist shots, goaltending ability, table hockey skills and virtual hockey talent with a game of EA Sports NHL 17.
Thunder forward Dana Fraser summed up the emotions of the evening.
“I always like to see the kids happy and having fun,” Fraser explained. “When they were playing in the small rinks and bubble hockey and meeting all the players, seeing the smiles on their faces was not only good, but good for hockey. You want to try to get them involved in hockey at a young age. If they are having fun and love the game, by going to and having fun at these fan fests, they will be more likely to participate in hockey and keep the tradition going in the Glens Falls area.”
The Thunder players particularly enjoyed one moment, a prelude to what was to come one night later.
“When (teammate and defenseman) Stepan Falkovsky was doing the hardest shot with the orange balls, and he hit over 100 mph with the little orange ball, we were all going a little crazy,” Thunder d-man Kevin Lough revealed. “I thought that was really cool.”
One verbal exchange with a fan caused All-Star Kevin Tansey (Missouri) to chuckle.
“A kid tapped me on the shoulder,” the bearded blueliner said, “and told me I looked like (Chicago Blackhawks defenseman) Duncan Keith.”
The next day, T. Paul Hendrick, Brad Phillips and Rick Kowalsky were inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame.
Hendrick has served as the ECHL’s General Counsel since the 1994-95 season, and has been instrumental in the guidance and foundation of building the league. He started working for the ECHL during the league’s inaugural season in 1988-89 when he represented the Carolina Thunderbirds. He played a major role in acquiring expansion teams from the former West Coast Hockey League in 2002 and the Central Hockey League in 2014 and has been a key figure in league structure, governing documents and labor relations.
Phillips was a linesman in the league for 15 years, is one of only three officials (2011 Hall of Fame inductee Joe Ernst and Norm Eberle) to work at least 1,000 ECHL contests and is only the second on-ice official to be inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame. Phillips officiated the 2001 ECHL All-Star Game in Arkansas and served as linesman during nine Kelly Cup finals, the most of any linesman in ECHL history. Following the 2012-13 campaign, he won the Ryan Birmingham Memorial Award, which honors an official for his contributions and dedication to the ECHL official staff.
Kowalsky played 10 seasons in the ECHL and skated in 516 career games with Hampton Roads, Roanoke and Trenton. A right wing, he totaled 550 points (221-329—550) in the regular season and tallied 62 points (32-30—62) in 68 playoff games. In his final season on the ice, he captained the Trenton Titans to the 2005 Kelly Cup championship. In 2006-07, he returned to Trenton as head coach and finished with a record of 138-122-28 over four seasons, winning the John Brophy Award as ECHL Coach of the Year in 2009. Kowalsky has served as head coach of the New Jersey Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Albany since 2010, and joined Claude Noel as the only individuals to win Coach of the Year honors in both the ECHL and AHL after winning the award with the A-Devils last season.
Among several people in attendance for the ceremony was Pat Kelly, co-founder of the ECHL and namesake of the league’s championship trophy. He received a rousing hand when introduced, which left a mark on All-Stars head coach Dan Watson (Toledo).
“When Mr. Pat Kelly got the standing ovation, that was extremely special for the rookies and for hockey in the USA,” Watson said. “Being involved in the league now as a coach for eight years and before that a player for three, four years, it was one of the best moments of the event for me.”
Finally, there was the game, which was divided into two 25-minute halves with the latter half concluding with 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 play.
Forwards Matt Garbowsky (Colorado), Alex Wideman (Indy) and David Vallorani (Brampton) each scored two goals and forward Shawn Szydlowski (Fort Wayne) tallied one marker for the winning club. The Thunder goals were scored by forwards James Henry, Brett Pollock, Nick Bligh, Brian Ward and Fraser.
Adirondack recorded two goals via the skills competition, which took place between halves. After a collaborative effort to win the puck relay, the Thunder earned a second goal when Falkovsky unleashed a 99 mph blast to win the hardest shot competition. The ECHL registered one goal by emerging victorious in the fastest skater competition when forward Steven McParland (South Carolina) skated a lap in 13.62 seconds.
Garbowsky, who also notched two assists, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Thunder coach Cail MacLean ranked Falkovsky’s winning slap shot as his favorite moment of the event.
“Behind the scenes for our hockey team, you have a young man from Belarus who just turned 20, and is feeling his way through this with a lot of guys helping him do it,” he said. “To feel the joy on our bench, not to mention him, for our teammate from these guys, just like they did for (captain Peter MacArthur during the puck relay) and just like they did for Pollock when he got the crowd going, was pretty cool. That’s a cool moment for our team. It’s something that we will be able to build on. Those are how bonds get built -- when guys go out there, represent you and do your team really proud. It’s a team-building moment even though it’s an individual doing it.”
The game will be remembered as one of the more competitive All-Star Classics in ECHL history.
“You got a group of guys – 20-plus players -- who’ve played 37 games together who have chemistry,” Watson stated. “Then you throw 22 guys together to get chemistry. It’s great. You have a hometown crowd and you fill the building to watch your own players play the rest of the ECHL. They don’t want to lose and they definitely made it hard on our guys. It was a great game and great for the ECHL and the fan base.”
MacArthur, a forward whose one-year-old son William joined him on the bench at one point – “That was once in a lifetime. He probably won’t remember it but we will, I will and our family will. That was a really special moment for us.” – said the game, and the Classic as a whole, “couldn’t have gone much better for our organization.”
“I heard there were a lot of people in the building before the warm-ups so I took a lap just to feel the energy in here,” concluded MacArthur, a Clifton Park, New York, native. “I was able to come and see the (AHL Adirondack) Red Wings when they played here. It’s contagious when the team gets going. To feel that buzz and that energy and the community just rallying around the event was really special for me. It was easy to get up. People are here to watch us do our thing; let’s entertain them. It felt really good just to have a feeling like that in this building and know that people care about what we’re trying to do here as a team and also as a league.”