The Idaho Steelheads and Stockton Thunder are locked in a playoff series with a spot in the Kelly Cup Finals on the line, so there's more intensity, more pressure and more referees?
For the first time ever, the ECHL is utilizing a two-referee system. The league began in 1988 and has always used one referee (who wears an orange armband) and two linesmen for its games.
This year, the ECHL voted to use two referees in the conference finals and the Kelly Cup Finals. The NHL uses a four-man system for all games, and the AHL uses it for more than half of its regular-season games and throughout the playoffs.
Mike Pearce, a supervisor of officials for the ECHL, watched from the third floor of CenturyLink Arena as Stockton defeated Idaho 3-1 on Friday. Game 2 is 5:10 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink.
"It made an enormous difference in the game," Pearce said. "The players understand they're being watched. In a one-referee system, they know that once he's turned his back and begins rushing up the ice it's very difficult to see 10 players on the ice. The players take liberties. They're smart and they know when to do it."
Pearce said it didn't take long for the extra official to have an impact.
"The first penalty of the game was a crosscheck by (Idaho defenseman) Hubert Labrie that in a three-man system quite possibly wouldn't have been called," Pearce said. "And I think that happening early in the first period sent the message to all the players that an extra set of eyes will catch the stuff that's behind the play and on the periphery."
Steelheads forward David de Kastrozza said players did make adjustments.
"Stuff behind the play, I feel like they're really going to key in on that, so you can't get away with tripping a guy because there's four guys out there. So you can't really hide," he said.
Perhaps that's why only three penalties were called in the game, all in the first period.
"I like the four-man system," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. "I think it cleans up the game a bit."
So why not use it all the time? "It all boils down to finances," Pearce said. "You figure in a 700-game schedule, that's pretty pricey."
FAMILIAR FACES IN OTHER PLACES
While the Steelheads try to chase down the Kelly Cup, some former players - and a former coach - are trying to win league titles of their own.
The Central Hockey League final pits the Allen Americans against the Wichita Thunder.
Former Steelheads Travis Wight and Ian Lowe play for Wichita, while Trevor Ludwig, Tyler Ludwig and Steve Silverthorn play for Allen. Silverthorn was the Kelly Cup Finals MVP in 2007, when Idaho won the title.
Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks are squaring off against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL Finals. The Oil Kings are led by former Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424