NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Jonas Soling made the 2001 East Coast Hockey League All-Star Game his personal showcase.
The Augusta Lynx winger scored a hat trick and added an assist and was awarded the game's MVP award, as he sparked the Southern Conference all stars to a 9-5 victory over the Northern Conference Tuesday night before a crowd of 7,029 fans at Alltel Arena.
The 22-year-old Soling scored on a breakaway in the first period, beating Trenton Titans goalie Scott Stirling with his trademark wrist shot from the slot, then added two more goals in the opening 13:57 of the second period to stake the Southern Conference to a 7-2 lead.
"I'm very happy right now," said Soling, whose teammate and fellow Swede Likit Andersson also represented the Lynx in the all-star game. "These three days have been so much fun. This is a great group of guys. It was relaxed and so much fun to be here."
The timing of the performance couldn't be better for Soling. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder is in the final year of a three-year contract with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. Save for a one-game stint with Kansas City of the International League last month, Soling has received little attention from the parent Canucks.
Soling's speed, puckhandling skills and blistering shot didn't go unnoticed Tuesday, and his strong showing might finally be the break he has long been waiting for.
In 48 games with the Lynx this season, Soling leads the club with 26 goals and is third in scoring with 46 points.
Said former NHL coach and ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose during Tuesday's all-star radio broadcast: "You wonder why a kid like Soling isn't playing in the American League."
Melrose also raved about Soling on national television two years ago. As a rookie, Soling scored a goal for the Southern Conference in the 1999 ECHL All-Star Game in Biloxi, Miss.
More raves from Melrose about Soling are likely on today's national tape-delayed broadcast of the game on ESPN2, beginning at 1 p.m. Lynx broadcaster Jerry Canaan will make his national TV debut as a rinkside reporter on the broadcast.
For the Northern Conference, Richmond Renegades forward Brian McCullough also tallied a hat trick, including a pair of goals in the third period to make the game interesting, but the South held off the late North charge to secure the victory.
Along with the game's top honors to Soling, Baton Rouge's Brian Leitza was named the goaltender of the game for the South, while Dayton's Ben Keup was named the rookie of the game.
For Leitza, it was a fitting performance. The 26-year-old spent the 1998-99 season with the Arkansas GlacierCats of the Western Professional Hockey League, where he played for Lynx coach Jim Burton and was a teammate of Lynx alternate captain Dean Tiltgen.
In the game, each squad had three goaltenders who played one period each. Leitza was the only netminder to pitch a shutout, stopping all seven shots he faced.
But the night truly belonged to Soling, whose big night likely won't go unnoticed. Along with the host of NHL and IHL scouts who attended the game, today's broadcast on ESPN will be seen in more than 65 million homes.
Soling, who played 29 games for Vancouver's AHL affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y., last season, said last month he hoped a good showing at the all-star game would help him secure an NHL contract beyond this season, whether it be with Vancouver or another club. He hinted that he would return home to Sweden if he did not sign another NHL deal.
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