TOLEDO, Ohio – A large portion of the ‘AA’ minor hockey league world either descended on and/or had their eyes upon Toledo this past weekend, as the ECHL/CCM All-Star Classic came to the Glass City for the first time in the league’s thirty-plus year history. With nine inductees between two hockey hall of fames, to the round-robin tournament decided by a sudden-victory shootout, the weekend gave plenty of memorable moments for the Walleye faithful and all who made the snow-ridden journey.

The weekend festivities began on Friday, January 19 in the form of Fanfest displays in a handful of local taverns, but the primer events leading to the on-ice action was stunted when Winter Storm Harper rolled into the Midwest Saturday afternoon. While displays remained in their respective locations, the advertised Brewfest at Fifth Third Field was postponed due to the weather and rescheduled for March 9.

The winter storm that brought wind, substantial snowfall, and sub-zero temperatures did not cause any more event cancellations. The ECHL and Toledo Hockey Hall of Fame Banquet went off with all honorees present, and yielded the biggest guest turnout in league history. The four ECHL Hall of Fame inductees included Jim Bermingham, Alex Hicks, Rick Judson, and former league commissioner Brian McKenna. The Toledo Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously inducted John McGrath and Maurice “Moe” Benoit; while Greg Puhalski, Chris McSorley, and USA Hockey legend Mike Eruzione rounded out the five players honored Sunday afternoon.

The SeaGate Convention Centre hosted upwards of 1000+ guests for the ECHL and Toledo Hockey Hall of Fame inductions Sunday morning in Toledo. Photo Credit: Samantha Hoffmann / The Sin Bin

Sunday evening brought with it Hockey Heritage Night, where the Toledo Walleye wore specialty All-Star Weekend jerseys in their regular season matchup against the Fort Wayne Komets. After a strong first period, Toledo let off the gas pedal in regards to momentum, allowing Fort Wayne back in the game in the second and third frames to force overtime and an eventual shootout. The Walleye salvaged a victory, however, on the back of a Justin Kea fifth-round, shootout goal to give Toledo the 3-2 win.

The grand finale of the All-Star Weekend culminated in the games themselves, as four squads (Two Toledo teams — Team Fins and Team Hooks — plus the Western and Eastern Conference All-Stars) played seven-minute matches in a round-robin style tournament to determine this year’s Classic champion. Round one featured six games, with the teams aiming to accrue the most goals in order to win on aggregate in the semifinal bouts.

  • Game One: Team Hooks 2, Eastern Conference 1
  • Game Two: Western Conference 3, Team Fins 1
  • Game Three: Western Conference 3, Team Hooks 1
  • Game Four: Team Fins 3, Eastern Conference 2
  • Game Five: Eastern Conference 3, Western Conference 1
  • Game Six: Team Fins 5, Team Hooks 1

Before Games Five and Six, the Fastest Skater Competition took place, with one representative from each team taking part. The winner would earn one goal towards his team’s aggregate total.

  • Winner: Bryan Moore, Team Fins (Toledo Walleye)  – 12.97 seconds
  • Second Place: Alex Breton, Western Conference (Allen Americans) – 13.01 seconds
  • Third Place: Daniel Leavens, Team Hooks (Toledo) – 13.12 seconds
  • Fourth Place: Giorgio Estephan, Eastern Conference (Newfoundland Growlers) – 13.56 seconds

The Hardest Shot Competition followed Games Five and Six, with the winner earning two goals toward their team’s aggregate total heading into the semifinals.

  • Winner: A.J. Jenks, Team Fins (Toledo) – 98 and 99 mph
  • Second Place: Matt Register, Team Hooks (Toledo) – 95 and 96 mph
  • Third Place: Johno May, Eastern Conference (Greenville Swamp Rabbits) – 91 and 92 mph
  • Fourth Place: Jared VanWormer, Western Conference (Kansas City Mavericks) – 86 and 89 mph
East All-Star Mike Szmatula prepares to wrist the winning shot by West goaltender Tomas Sholl as time expires in the second semifinal game Sunday night. Photo Credit: Sarah Hobday / The Sin Bin

With Team Fins earning three bonus goals heading into the semis, their 12 total goals was enough to earn the first seed against a four-goal Hooks team. The Fins easily took the game by a score of 3-1 to advance to the final round. The second semifinal matchup between the East (six goals) and West (seven goals) came down to the wire, as a blocked shot by the East’s David Pacan (Brampton) in front of an empty net lead to a last-second Mike Szmatula (Adirondack) goal to give the East a 4-3 victory over the West on a 10-10 aggregate tie.

The Accuracy Competition followed the semifinal matches, with the winning participant earning three goals towards their team’s aggregate total heading into the final game.

  • Winner: David Pacan, Eastern Conference (Brampton Beast) – 4 out of 6 targets in 9.5 seconds
  • Second Place: Greg Wolfe, Team Fins (Toledo) – 4 out of 10 targets in 11.7 seconds
  • Third Place: Vasili Glotov, Western Conference (Cincinnati Cyclones), 4 out of 16 targets in 31.1 seconds
  • Fourth Place: T.J. Hensick, Team Hooks (Toledo), 4 out of 17 targets in 22.7 seconds

The final round pitted the Eastern Conference against Team Fins, with both teams scoring 13 total goals in the previous rounds. Fins defenseman Connor Schmidt and East forward Andrew Cherniwchan (South Carolina) both scored in regulation, but the 1-1 tie required a sudden-victory shootout round to determine the victor. The East’s Dajon Mingo (Jacksonville) began the round, beating Fins netminder Pat Nagle glove-side to strike first and put the East up 1-0. Team Fins chose Jenks to try and even up the shootout to force an extra round, but East goaltender Mitch Gillam (Worcester) stopped the try, ending the shootout and clinching an Eastern Conference All-Star victory.

The Most Valuable Player of the night went to a more-than-deserving Pacan, who netted one goal and three assists in the tournament while earning the Shooting Accuracy title. His aforementioned game-saving block in the semifinal no doubt padded his resume en route to MVP honors.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

When the four All-Star squads gathered for pictures early Monday morning, there was a notable difference regarding one of the teams. While every other group had their allotted ten players, the East All-Stars only had seven players out on the ice for photos. Three of the East’s skaters — Adirondack’s Mike Szmatula, Brampton’s David Pacan, and Jacksonville’s Dajon Mingo — were all absent for group pictures and the subsequent morning skate.

The Sunday morning picture for the East All-Stars only included seven of the ten skaters that would eventually play that evening in the Classic. From left to right: Florida’s Justin Cox, South Carolina’s Johnathan Cherniwchan, Newfoundland’s Giorgio Estephan, Greenville’s Johno May, Florida Head Coach Brad Ralph, Manchester’s David Kolomatis, Norfolk’s Jalen Smereck, and Worcester’s Mitch Gillam. Photo Credit: Sarah Hobday / The Sin Bin

Szmatula suffered from flight delays coming out of Glens Falls, New York; Pacan also suffered delays from Glens Falls, as the Beast had just played the Thunder on January 19; and Mingo had been released from AHL Manitoba just a day before so he could make it in time for the main event.

East All-Star David Pacan blocks a potential game-sealing shot as goalie Mitch Gillam was pulled in the final moments of the semifinal match for an extra skater, thus leaving an empty net. Photo Credit: Sarah Hobday / The Sin Bin

As previously mentioned, all three men were integral in the Eastern Conference emerging as ASC Champions: Pacan sacrificing his body for an empty-net save & Szmatula scoring a last-second goal in the semifinal, and Mingo netting the game-winning goal in the final (via sudden-victory shootout).

LOOKING AHEAD

20 of the 27 ECHL teams will resume gameplay on Friday, January 25 after a brief, post All-Star break. All-Star host Toledo will invite Cincinnati to the Huntington Center that evening in a battle between first and second place in the Central Division (7:15pm ET). Other notable matchups that night will include a one-two South Division showdown (Jacksonville at Florida, 7:30pm ET) and a three-four grudge bout in the Central (Fort Wayne at Indy, 7:35pm ET).

Don’t forget to check out the All-Star Weekend picture galleries of The Sin Bin’s Sarah Hobday (both action photos and candid shots) for more visual coverage of the ECHL Mid-Winter Classic! Special thanks to AHL Editor Samantha Hoffmann for all her awesome video coverage during the All-Star Weekend!

West All-Stars/Cincinnati Cyclones Head Coach Matt Thomas (8:03)

East All-Star/Jacksonville Icemen forward Dajon Mingo (1:47)

East All-Star/Brampton Beast Forward David Pacan (1:33)

West All-Star/Idaho Steelheads Goaltender Tomas Sholl (2:10)

East All-Star/Adirondack Thunder Forward Mike Szmatula (2:05)