Minor-league hockey all-star games, first and foremost, are designed to showcase top young talent on the ice. And for a handful of lucky players, the event might even serve as a springboard to a shot at the next level.
Maybe the East Coast Hockey League All-Star Game tonight at Alltel Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., will provide that break for Augusta Lynx forward Jonas Soling and defenseman Likit Andersson, who were voted to the Southern Conference squad last month.
The 22-year-old Soling, who is third on the team in scoring with 46 points on 26 goals and 20 assists, will make his second ECHL all-star appearance in three seasons with the Lynx.
Andersson, 27, is among the league leaders in scoring among defensemen with 32 points on five goals and 27 assists. This will be his first all-star game appearance at any level.
But perhaps the biggest break of all awaits Augusta's other all-star representative, the one who's been calling the shots for Lynx fans the past three seasons.
Three years after giving up a law career to chase his dream, Lynx play-by-play voice Jerry Canaan will make his debut on national television as a rinkside reporter for the ESPN2 broadcast of the all-star game.
Canaan will work with ESPN2 hockey commentators Dave Ryan and former NHL coach Barry Melrose. The game will be broadcast on tape at 1 p.m. Wednesday. According to the ECHL, the broadcast will be seen in more than 65 million households.
"It's a wonderful opportunity," said the 35-year-old Canaan, who was chosen by producers at ESPN, beating out ECHL broadcasters who sent in audition tapes in November. "I don't know how or why they ended picking me or if it will ever lead to anything. But it definitely validates the decision to give (broadcasting) a shot."
It certainly makes all of Canaan's hard work during the season seem worthwhile.
Along with broadcasting games and serving as the team's director of public relations, Canaan handles countless other tasks for the Lynx that generally go unnoticed by fans and local media.
His commitment to giving Lynx fans a quality radio broadcast 72 nights a year, though, doesn't go unnoticed.
"You can say I'm biased, but I know that I am not alone in saying that Jerry Canaan is the best in the league," said Lynx general manager Paul Gamsby, who hired Canaan in 1998 after being hounded by the persistent litigator. "He's good enough to be calling games in the NHL. I'll hate to lose him, but I also hope he gets that opportunity, if that's what he wants to do."
How far Canaan has come in a short time is truly amazing. Before he joined the Lynx, his only broadcasting experience was doing intermission reports and occasional play-by-play for the ECHL's Richmond (Va.) Renegades.
Before that, Canaan was an attorney, working in the litigation, sports and entertainment division of a Richmond law firm.
"Of all the people (ESPN) could have hired, I'm lucky they hired me," Canaan said. "There's a lot of talented guys in this league with seniority over me, so I feel very fortunate. I guess even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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