Editorial: Hockey all-stars set to shine in Norfolk for ECHL game, events

Not everyone is a fan of hockey, but that’s probably because not everyone’s given the sport a chance.

Tune into a game — or, better yet, see one in person — and resist being mesmerized by the combination of speed, skill and power on the ice. Hockey at its best is a thing of heart-pounding beauty, a thrilling spectacle that commands your attention.

This weekend, hockey enthusiasts and those who are hockey curious can see some of the best ply their trade as Hampton Roads hosts the Warrior/ECHL All-Star Classic at Norfolk’s Scope Arena. There may be no better opportunity to fall in love with hockey — or to celebrate the game — than this.

The passing view of hockey is that it’s a brutal sport played by heavies and mashers. The rules can be arcane and indecipherable, and the whole thing may seem foreign to those of us who didn’t grow up with frozen backyard ponds.

But hockey is very much a global game, played in the expected places where the winter sun does nothing to warm icy landscapes to the less expected tropical climes where fans wear shorts to the rink. It inspires tremendous passion among its devotees, who celebrate the fact that hockey — from the top professional leagues to the local beer leagues, from rural towns to the inner city — is for everyone, especially for children of every age, background and gender.

That welcoming perspective will be on display in Norfolk with a weekend of festivities leading up to the Monday night game featuring the most accomplished and talented players competing in the East Coast Hockey League.

That begins on Sunday with the ECHL FanFest at the Waterside District in Norfolk that will feature some of hockey’s most acclaimed trophies. That will include the Stanley Cup, arguably the most well known championship in sports, that will be shown in various spots around the city leading up to the FanFest, from 1-6 p.m.

The Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player of the NHL playoffs, and Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL MVP, will also be part of a display from the Hockey Hall of Fame. The FanFest event is open to the public, but the Hall of Fame exhibits require a $10 ticket.

The All-Star Game follows on Monday at 7 p.m., and tickets are still available. According to the ECHL, it “will consist of a tournament featuring the ECHL All-Stars and the Norfolk Admirals, with an integrated skills competition with points counting towards each team’s score.”

Dozens of ECHL players played in the All-Star Game and advanced to the NHL. Some are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. So this event could well showcase the next generation of transcendent talent.

Tim Thomas, the goalie who led the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup, and Braden Holtby, the goalie who in 2018 helped lead the Washington Capitals to their first championship, are among those legends who first made their name in the league, though they are hardly the only talents to ascend from the ECHL to hockey’s highest plateaus.

It is a privilege for the Norfolk Admirals, the local ECHL squad and an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, to host this event in Hampton Roads. It marks the second time that the Admirals have been selected for that honor, the previous event taking place in 1994.

What’s more, the league estimates the event generates about $1 million in direct and indirect economic benefit. A good showing — meaning full stands at the game — is sure to help Hampton Roads attract similar events in the future.

For long-time hockey fanatics, this weekend will be a celebration of the sport they adore. But for those new to the sport, this is a chance to see some of the best players in the world competing on the same ice.

Don’t miss out, Hampton Roads. Come fall in love with hockey.