TOLEDO, Ohio – Justin Hodgman’s team wound up in third place at the ECHL’s All-Star Classic, but he may have had the night’s most memorable moments.
Hodgman, who captained the Western Conference team, was roundly booed by the Huntington Center crowd of 7,736 – surely because he represented the Komets, bitter rivals of the host Toledo Walleye.
"I just loved it. It just means I'm doing something right when I'm playing on the road. It was expected," said Hodgman, who went on to score twice and set up another goal, giving him a chance to troll the fans of a team for which he once played.
The Eastern Conference won the four-team 3-on-3 tournament that utilized rally scoring with a running clock and had two teams from the Walleye. David Pacan of the Brampton Beast was selected All-Star MVP.
"As soon as I'd heard them (boo me), I said to the goalie standing beside me that if I score, I'm definitely going to give them one of those. It worked out perfectly," said Hodgman, who celebrated his goals by cupping his glove to his ear.
(Video highlights above.)
The Western Conference looked to be the best team early but didn’t advance to the finals because of a pair of losses to the Eastern Conference, including a 4-3 semifinals loss decided by a breakaway goal from Adirondack’s Mike Szmatula with 1 second left that left the teams tied with 10 points apiece, including what had come from the skills competitions.
A berth in the finals then hinged on the accuracy competition and Pacan sent the Eastern Conference into the championship against Team Fins. That went to a sudden-death shootout and Dajon Mingo of Jacksonville had the lone goal to secure the 2-1 victory.
Hodgman has missed the Komets’ last five games with a hand injury, suffered while punching the Indy Fuel’s Zach Miskovic on Jan. 11, and that included sitting out the 3-2 loss to the Walleye here Sunday in an overtime shootout.
The Komets are off until this Friday’s game in Indianapolis. Both he and Jake Kamrass (upper body), who are the Komets’ top two scorers, remain day-to-day with their injuries.
Hodgman wasn’t the only person representing the Komets; equipment managers Joe and Aaron Franke were chosen to tend to be the equipment managers of the Western and Eastern Conference teams.
“We got some goodies, we got some really nice goodies,” joked Joe Franke, looking at the blue all-star warm-ups he and his son were wearing. “But it’s been so much fun. We got to see so many people, like (former Komets coach Greg Puhalski) and (former players) Rick Judson and Kelly Miller. So many of the guys that we had in Fort Wayne we’ve been able to reminisce with and it was awesome.”
Joe, 58, and Aaron, 34, were able to enjoy themselves a little bit more than Dave Aleo, the equipment manager of the Walleye.
“It’s been a breeze for us actually. If we were at home, it would be a lot more work,” Aaron Franke said, adding that Aleo had to tend to most of the important things like laundry, work on the helmets and name changes to jerseys.
Hodgman, who played for the Walleye in their inaugural season of 2009-10, scored twice in the Western Conference’s 3-1 victory over the Fins. To get those goals, Hodgman beat goaltender Pat Nagle with a backhand shot at the end of a breakaway and scored on a one-timer set up by a cross-ice pass from Cincinnati’s Arvin Atwal.
"Especially with the hand injury I'm dealing with, I knew I'd have a limited game and going to a backhand was something I was going to have to do on a breakaway," Hodgman said. "The wrist shot is a little iffy right now and it went in, which is good because I've been struggling on breakaways against Nagle this season. And then, no joke, the second goal was a one-handed one-timer; I took my bottom hand off and kicked the stick with my right leg."
And in a 3-0 victory over Team Hooks, Hodgman’s no-look pass set up Cincinnati’s Vasili Glotov for a goal.
The Western Conference lost its first game against the Eastern Conference 3-1 – former Komets defenseman Jalen Smereck scored for the East – and that would be crucial in ousting the West later.
"I had a blast and I cannot stop smiling," Hodgman said. "It would have been great to have won, but I'm happy the East won. If it wasn't going to be us, I'm glad it was the East and that I was able to share this experience with my family and my kids. It was one of the best experiences of my career."
As for whether the Toledo fans have forgotten that he was once a Walleye, Hodgman said: "I don't think it matters. Once you're a Komet, they don't really care too much."
Notes: Toledo’s Bryan Moore won the fastest skater competition in 12.97 seconds. … Toledo’s A.J. Jenks won the hardest shot with 99 MPH. … The Wichita Thunder will host the All-Star Classic on Jan. 22, 2020. … Toledo announced an outdoor game for December 2020.