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Walleye Weigh-In: Instant replay in the ECHL is a must

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    Toledo's Dylan Shadowy (15), right, tries to get control of the puck near the goal as Cincinnati's Anthony Florentino (3), left, and Jonas Johansson (31), center, defend during an ECHL hockey game between the Toledo Walleye and Cincinnati Cyclones at the Huntington Center in Toledo on Sunday, January 28.

    BLADE/KURT STEISS

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    Toledo's Tyler Barnes (7), second from left, keeps Cincinnati's Jonas Johansson (31), left, Justin Vaive (15), center, and Brycen Martin (27), right, away from the puck on the first Walleye goal of the game credited to Toledo's Kyle Bonis, not pictured, during Sunday's game.

    Blade/Kurt Steiss

In 2018, it's absolutely ridiculous that the ECHL does not have instant replay and video reviews yet.

A league that prides itself on being the “premiere Double-A hockey league” is still in the stone ages when it comes to utilizing existing technology.

With pucks flying at upwards of 100 miles per hour, goals are scored in the less than a blink of an eye. Currently, if there is ever a question whether a goal is good or not, video replay is not available. One single referee must officiate all of the action and is in charge of allowing or disallowing goals.

The ref can, however, consult with the goal judges – stationed at both ends of the rink, elevated and behind the nets - by phone. The ref can either allow or disallow a goal based on that input.

Goal judges, who signal a red light when they deem that the puck has crossed the goal line, have an unenviable task. The goal judges are unpaid volunteers, who take their jobs very seriously. But plays happen much too fast and even a well-trained eye can often not keep up. Pucks can instantly deflect off the back bar and instantly bounce back out. They can slide over the goal line out of view of the ref.

The majority of the 27 rinks in the ECHL have full capabilities to show multiple angles of controversial goals. Both the NHL and AHL have had video review for years. But there are still a few teams in the ECHL that don't have the appropriate technology. So it's all or none.

But every goal is potentially critical. Every point counts, especially with tight division races. Home ice advantage and playoff positioning are at stake.

In two games over a span of five days, the Walleye were involved in controversial situations that could have easily been rectified if video replay had been available. Both occurred when the goal judge turned the red light on when he believed a goal had been scored, but play continued anyway. In one case, Toledo was awarded the goal. In the other, they were not. Again both decisions were based on real-time situations.

Walleye coach Dan Watson did not mince words when he took to Twitter to express his disappointment.

“Video Replay is a must in 2018,” Watson wrote in a post a day after his team was affected by a questionable non-goal call that may have cost Toledo a point. “Plays are happening too fast with one ref on the ice. Help these guys make the right calls. Some will go against you, some will go for you. At the end of the day, the right call should be made.”

It can only help improve the product.

Cost is the obvious impediment to the implementation of the video replay systems in all 27 of the arenas in the league.

Some experts say major expenditures of money would be necessary to upgrade equipment in a few buildings. Some estimates are as high as $25,000 for the systems.

Although ECHL officials did not immediately provide an official stance on instant replay, discussion on the issue has been outgoing at league meetings for several years.

The league's board of governors have consistently rejected the idea based upon the protest of a few owners.

So long as the owners are reluctant to plunk down a chunk of change to make it happen, fans, coaches, players – and yes the officials themselves – are left with nothing but frustration.

While instant replay can often be cumbersome and time-consuming, the intent is always to get it right. The NFL has been heavily criticize for getting calls wrong even after lengthy reviews. But reviewing goals in hockey is clear-cut – when slowed down to milliseconds.

It's time to get it right. Make video replay mandatory in every ECHL arena.

SENSATIONAL SEGMENT: My favorite moment during every home game is when the crowd rises to its feet to honor the Hometown Hero of the night.

During the media timeout in the second period, a local serviceman or servicewoman is shown on the giant video board. Without fail, the fans stop what they are doing and stand to applaud the honorary veteran.

Walleye players tap their sticks against the boards or on the ice to show their appreciation. More often than not, players from the opposing team also join in the rising ovation.

The veterans always are moved by the reaction. Many tear-up and others wave to the cheering crowd with beaming smiles. It's a very uplifting and unifying moment.

This year The Blade has taken over sponsorship of the event - an outstanding tradition.

T-TOWN TURNOUT: Want proof that Toledo is a great sports town?

On Saturday night, more than 8,000 fans packed the Huntington Center for Walleye hockey.

There also were 6,812 fans at Savage Arena for the basketball game between UT and BG.

And that's not to mention the thousands that attended high school events that evening.

Toledo ranks second in the ECHL in average attendance (7,470). And that consistent – and often vocal and knowledgeable – support has an affect on the players.

Many free agents now opt to come to Toledo because of the fan support. Just ask first-year Walleye D-man Davis Vandane. He played before crowds of 2,300 (announced) when he was with Elmira last season.

“When my agent called and said Toledo had an offer on the table, it was kind of eye-opening,” Vandane said. “They are one of best teams in the league and one of best towns. As a player when you go to an opposing rink, you always look forward to going out on the ice and looking at the building. The first time I skated out of the tunnel at the Huntington Center, the place was packed and it was so loud. It was one of the arenas I always wanted to play in because of the atmosphere. It's tough to go into some places when there are 500 or 600 people in the building. Knowing that Toledo was going to be my home rink was one of the most appealing things.”

GARBAGE TIME: While it should go without saying, throwing garbage on to the ice is absolute garbage.

It is never acceptable.

There have been moments over the years when fans at the Huntington Center got so worked up and heated, they littered the ice with beer cups, popcorn boxes, and other trash.

This happened during a Saturday night game on Jan. 13 when Toledo had the game well in hand over Kansas City. Inexplicably some home fans joined some supporters from the opposing team in tossing items on to the ice after “a good goal” ruling for Toledo. The Walleye players skated over and urged the unruly (and likely inebriated) bozos to stop. Toledo could have been issued a delay of game penalty.

It creates hazardous playing conditions and it's dangerous to the players. But more over, it's rude and disrespectful.

INJURY UPDATE: Forward A.J. Jenks (lower body) and defenseman Beau Schmitz (upper body) are still a few weeks away from returning to the lineup.

Jenks was on the road trip with the team to Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Canada last week. He was doing some light skating with the team. Captain Alden Hirschfeld (lower body) also was on the road trip. He is still not expected to be back until the playoffs. However, the Sylvania native is still on the bench helping coach the team.

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