Darren Tiemstra, Matt Ulwelling and Steve Rymsha?
"Who are these guys?" was the question of the day posed by players, coaches and media when those and other unfamiliar names were selected to the East Coast Hockey League Southern Conference All-Star team on Tuesday.
A handful of Lynx players glanced at the South roster after practice Wednesday, and only a few names on the list were recognizable to them.
"We've played Columbus a couple of times, and I can't even remember this guy Tiemstra," one player said last week. "I honestly don't remember playing against any of these guys."
Tiemstra, a rookie defenseman with Columbus, has two goals and seven points in 24 games. Ulwelling, a rookie forward with Columbia, is tied for third on his team in scoring with nine goals and 23 points in 34 games. Rymsha, another rookie forward, is Greenville's seventh-leading scorer with nine goals and 18 points in 28 games.
All-star games generally are reserved for elite players. Forwards leading their teams in scoring; goaltenders with microscopic goals-against averages, two-way defensemen with strong offensive numbers and plus-minus ratings.
But this year, the ECHL threw everyone a curve.
Hoping to market itself as a true developmental league and attract National Hockey League scouts to the all-star game, ECHL officials altered the selection process. The league asked coaches to vote for a starting lineup as well as a lineup of the top prospects in the conference.
In the South, the result was a roster of 20 players making their first all-star appearance and 11 rookies. Among the most glaring all-star snubs - Pee Dee's Dany Bousquet (fourth in the ECHL in scoring); Florida's Tom Buckley (fifth in scoring); and Lynx defenseman David Wilkie (the ECHL's leader in defense scoring).
ECHL president Rick Adams says past all-star games featured veteran players in which NHL scouts had no interest. The goal, now, is to bring more credibility to the ECHL as a legitimate developmental league.
The idea is a good one. Lynx rookie Patrick Yetman, clearly Augusta's top young prospect, was practically turning cartwheels when he heard he was named to the squad.
Some say the Jan. 21 game in Trenton, N.J., is a prospects showcase and not an all-star game. Why not offer two games - a true all-star game featuring the league's elite, and a game solely for prospects - next year?
"That would be great for everyone," Lynx coach Jim Burton said. "I like what they're doing, giving exposure to some of the younger guys. But there's a bunch of older guys who deserve to be there, too."
NORTHERN STARS: The Northern Conference team, announced on Wednesday, was equally devoid of established stars in favor of up-and-comers.
The starters are goalie Curtis Sanford (Peoria); defensemen Justin Harney (Charlotte) and Matt Libby (Trenton); and forwards Ben Keup (Dayton), Dylan Gyori (Wheeling) and Rick Kowalsky (Roanoke).
Reserves include goalies Joel Laing (Wheeling) and Rastislav Stana (Richmond); defensemen Matt Desrosiers (Dayton), Andrei Lupandin (Greensboro), Arvid Rekis (Peoria), and Simon Tremblay (Reading); and forwards Erik Anderson (Cincinnati), Kevin Colley (Atlantic City), Benoit Dusablon (Charlotte), Vern Fiddler (Roanoke), David Gove (Johnstown), Pat Leahy (Trenton), Magnus Nilsson (Toledo), Garrett Prosofsky (Richmond) and Ben Stafford (Trenton).
The most notable Northern Conference snub was former Lynx Lars Pettersen, who leads Richmond in scoring with 14 goals and 32 points in 26 games.
PIM AND PROPER: Fifth in the ECHL in penalty minutes with an average of 29.3 a game, the Lynx have exhibited better discipline of late in response to Burton's mandate to eliminate unnecessary trips to the box.
While Friday's win at Columbus was somewhat of a return to their rough-and-tumble ways, the bulk of the 44 PIMs the Lynx registered were justifiable as the frustrated Cottonmouths tried to get physical late in the contest.
In the three games prior to Friday, the Lynx averaged just 17 PIMs. Even ECHL PIMs leader Trevor Gillies, who was benched after taking a four-minute penalty in the 4-3 loss to Greensboro Dec. 14, has shown restraint of late.
"I want us to play physical," Burton said. "But we need to eliminate the foolish penalties, and I think we're starting to do a better job of that."
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