For the first time since 1994, Hampton Roads and the Norfolk Admirals will play host to the ECHL All-Star Classic.
Players from across the league will flock Monday night to Scope to represent their respective teams on the Eastern and Western conference all-star teams.
This is the second time that the Admirals have hosted an All-Star Classic. Norfolk becomes just the second city to host the game twice, joining Reading, Pennsylvania.
For Admirals president Billy Johnson, hosting the event is an honor, especially in his first year on the job.
“It’s always prestigious to be a part of it,” Johnson said. “I think it carries some extra weight this particular season because we’re just coming out of a pandemic. And a lot of teams are going through this sort of waking-up process. So to have the ability to have this as a centerpiece event to help us all wake up, it’s kind of a blessing.”
The All-Star Classic is more than just a singular hockey game, though. On Sunday, a Fan Fest was held in the Waterside District.
“My job — and our job — here is to drive traffic downtown,” Johnson said. “Anytime we can shine a light on the city, that’s a huge win.”
On Sunday, fans got the opportunity to see the NHL’s Stanley Cup, the ECHL’s Kelly Cup and a traveling Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit. Fans had the opportunity to take pictures with both prestigious trophies, but also get to see the Admirals’ place in hockey history, Johnson said.
The Admirals franchise started in 1989 and played in the ECHL until 2000, winning league championships in three of its first seven seasons (1991, 1992 and 1998). As an American Hockey League team, Norfolk won the Calder Cup in 2012, setting a professional hockey record that season with 28 consecutive victories.
Norfolk rejoined the ECHL in 2015 and since 2021 has been an affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s been a traditionally tremendous professional hockey market in the past on the ice from a playing standpoint,” Johnson said. “So fans can expect probably a lot of nostalgia from the teams that they grew up watching if they’re from here, and a lot of big-picture inclusion of our role in the game itself.”
The game itself won’t look like a traditional hockey game, and isn’t like an all-star game in any other sport.
“Look at it as more of a show and an exhibition,” Johnson said. “It’s gonna be competitive for sure, but it’s going to be unlike something that most fans would associate with a [proper] hockey game.”
Players from the Admirals will be split into two different teams, the Cruisers and the Destroyers, and will take on both the Eastern and Western conference all-stars.
These four teams will play in a 3-on-3, round-robin tournament with a running clock. In between games, there will be skills competitions to determine the fastest skater, hardest shooter and most accurate shooter. The winner of these competitions will earn a point for their respective team.
“What we’ll have is a two-hour show of some really fast-paced, flowing format,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, and don’t expect anyone getting in any fights. It’s all about showcasing some of the finer skills.”
The All-Star Classic will also give an opportunity for players from professional women’s leagues to showcase their talents. Two players from the Premier Hockey Federation and Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association will be split onto the roster of each team.
Tickets for the game Monday can still be purchased online. Johnson said the expectation is for the game to rival a typical Admirals Saturday night crowd.
“We’re excited that the numbers are trending in a way that has perhaps been one of the best-attended nights of our season this year,” Johnson said.
Ben Langham, a long-time Admirals fan from Virginia Beach, attended Friday’s regular-season game and said he’s excited about the all-star game Monday.
“I think it’s an awesome experience. I’ve been playing hockey my whole life. So I mean, that’s why I want to come to the game,” Langham said. “I haven’t had a chance to go to the NHL All-Star Game. This is kind of like my hometown now since I got out of the Navy. … I love the Admirals.”
John Bryant and Collin Rucker, fans from the D.C. area, said the All-Star Classic would be a great way for hockey fans in the Hampton Roads area to all come together.
“Obviously, just Norfolk in general is kind of like a hidden gem,” Bryant said. “I went to Virginia Beach every summer growing up and I never knew about the Admirals. Now that I live down here, I’ll start to come way more often.”
Langham added that he felt the game is “absolutely” a great opportunity for the city, and a good crowd at the game could be vital for the future of hockey in Norfolk.
“The more people [that come] will keep hockey here in Norfolk, the less people [that come] — hockey will leave,” Langham said.
The Admirals themselves haven’t fared too well this season — or in recent years. The team is 6-27-1-2 and hasn’t put together a winning season since 2013-2014, when the Admirals were an American Hockey League affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.
Johnson said the all-star game is the perfect chance for the Admirals’ players and coaches to take a step back for a quick breather during what has been a rough season.
“It comes at a good time for our team because it’s a chance for our team to do something fun, rather than having the pressure of the game,” Johnson said. “I can’t speak for those guys, but every player that participates in these events, they just absolutely have a blast. So I think it’s a good morale-booster and team-builder as well.”
2023 Warrior/ECHL All-Star Classic
7 p.m. Monday at Scope
Tickets: Available via Ticketmaster, beginning at $20 plus fees.
On TV: NHL Network, and can be streamed via FloHockey.