Jacksonville Sports Day

34th ECHL Season Opens on Thursday; Icemen Begin 2021 on Road Saturday

SHREWSBURY, N.J. – The 34th season of the ECHL begins with Opening Night on Thursday when the Newfoundland Growlers visit one of the two new ECHL teams for 2021-22, the Trois-Rivières Lions.

Opening Weekend continues with six games on Friday and 13 games on Saturday before concluding with two games on Sunday.

The ECHL’s other new Member, the Iowa Heartlanders, begin their tenure in the league on Friday when they host Kansas City. Other openers on Friday’s schedule include Idaho hosting Utah, Maine taking on Worcester, Norfolk entertaining Reading and Rapid City meeting Tulsa.

Twelve teams open their home schedules on Saturday as Adirondack entertains Newfoundland, Allen welcomes Wichita, Florida hosts Jacksonville, Fort Wayne takes on Wheeling, Indy entertains Cincinnati, Kansas City welcomes Iowa, Kalamazoo meets Toledo, Orlando hosts Atlanta, Reading meets Norfolk, South Carolina takes on Greenville, Utah entertains Idaho and Worcester welcomes Maine.

In addition to Iowa and Trois-Rivières, the ECHL welcomes back 11 teams who did not play during the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that has 27 teams in 20 states and two Canadian province playing 972 games from Oct. 21, 2021 to April 17, 2022. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

The ECHL has affiliations with 27 teams in the National Hockey League in 2021-22, marking the 25th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. All 27 ECHL teams are affiliated for the 2021-22 season, the first time that has happened in five seasons.

New faces behind the benches

Eight of the 27 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2021-22 season gets underway.

After spending two seasons as Cincinnati’s assistant coach, Jason Payne assumes the head-coaching role following Matt Thomas’ hiring as an assistant coach for Providence in the American Hockey League.

Gerry Fleming returns to the ECHL as the first head coach for Iowa. Fleming, who coached Tallahassee and Florida from 2000-08, has spent the last 13 years as an assistant and head coach in the American Hockey League and an assistant coach in the DEL.

Nick Luukko gets his first head-coaching assignment in Jacksonville, replacing the ECHL’s all-time leader in coaching wins Jason Christie, who was hired as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Luukko was an assistant coach with Reading in 2019-20 after concluding his four-year professional playing career.

In Maine, Ben Guite moves to the pro ranks after spending the previous eight seasons as assistant and associate coach at the University of Maine. Guite replaces Riley Armstrong, who was hired as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The new head coach in Newfoundland is Eric Wellwood, taking over for John Snowden who was hired as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Wellwood was head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Flint Firebirds from 2018-20.

Longtime ECHL player and assistant coach Scott Burt takes over as head coach in Rapid City. Burt, who was the first person in ECHL history to win three Kelly Cup titles as a player (Idaho in 2004 and 2007 and Alaska in 2011), has been an assistant coach with both the Aces and Steelheads, while also serving in an assistant’s role with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs.

The first head coach in Trois-Rivières history is Éric Bélanger. He played over 800 career NHL games with Los Angeles, Carolina, Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington, Phoenix and Edmonton and has been coaching junior hockey in Quebec since 2016.

After spending three-plus seasons as Utah’s assistant coach, Ryan Kinasewich slides over into the head-coaching role after Tim Branham was hired as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles.

Approaching milestones

Atlanta’s Michael Pelech enters the season third in ECHL history with 396 assists, fourth with 767 games played and 13th with 575 points. He needs 23 games to move into second place in ECHL history and with 25 points, he would become just the eighth player in league history to reach the 600-point plateau.

Chad Costello of Allen returns to the ECHL for the first time since 2016-17 after playing in Europe the previous four seasons. He needs 11 points to become the 11th player in ECHL history to reach the 500-point plateau. Costello enters the season 20th all-time in league history with 343 assists.

Atlanta’s Derek Nesbitt is also on the cusp of joining the 500-point plateau, as he enters the season 13 points shy of reaching the mark.

Justin Taylor of Kalamazoo begins the season 10th all-time with 652 games played. With 48 games, he would become just the sixth player in ECHL history to skate in at least 700 games.

Greenville’s Michael Pelech also looks to move up the career games played list this season. Pelech enters the campaign  ninth in league history with 642 games played and looks to become only the fifth player to play in at least 700 games.

Reading’s Pat Nagle enters the season fifth all-time with 191 career wins. He is nine wins shy of passing Joel Martin, who ranks fourth all-time with 199 wins, and becoming just the fourth goaltender in league history to win at least 200 games. Nagle ranks sixth all-time in appearances by a goaltender (328) and is seventh in shutouts (16).

Several ECHL coaches are also on the verge of milestones in the 2021-22 season.

Allen’s Steve Martinson is 17 wins shy of becoming just the third coach in ECHL history to reach the 500-win plateau. Martinson also ranks second in ECHL history with 99 career postseason games coached and is third with 53 postseason wins, just two behind the all-time leader, Matt Thomas.

Kalamazoo’s Nick Bootland is 19 games shy of becoming just the fifth coach in ECHL history to reach the 800-games coached mark. He is tied for seventh in league history with 401 career wins.

Florida’s Brad Ralph and Tulsa’s Rob Murray look to join the ECHL 400-win club this season. Ralph enters the season ninth in league history with 366 wins while Murray ranks 10th with 363 victories.

Team Capsules

North Division

ADIRONDACK THUNDER
Location: Glens Falls, New York
Arena (Capacity): Cool Insuring Arena (4,794)
Coach: Alex Loh, 3rd Season (59-54-22)
NHL Affiliate: New Jersey Devils
AHL Affiliate: Utica Comets
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 22-28-13, 57 points
Division Finish: 5th, North
Overall ECHL Finish: 19th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.13 (15th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.48 (17th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.8% (15th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.9% (12th)
 
 
MAINE MARINERS
Location: Portland, Maine
Arena (Capacity): Cross Insurance Arena (6,733)
Coach: Ben Guite, 1st Season
NHL Affiliate: Boston Bruins
AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins
 
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 32-26-4, 68 points
Division Finish: 4th, North
Overall ECHL Finish: 12th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.94 (18th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.00 (11th)
Power Play (Rank): 18.1% (10th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 83.7% (T6th)
 
 
NEWFOUNDLAND GROWLERS
Location: St. John’s, Newfoundland
Arena (Capacity): Mile One Centre (6,287)
Coach: Eric Wellwood, 1st Season
NHL Affiliate: Toronto Maple Leafs
AHL Affiliate: Toronto Marlies
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 42-17-1, 85 points
Division Finish: 1st, North
Overall ECHL Finish: 4th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 4.00 (1st)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.95 (10th)
Power Play (Rank): 24.1% (2nd)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 79.9% (21st)
 
 
READING ROYALS
Location: Reading, Pennsylvania
Arena (Capacity): Santander Arena (7,160)
Coach: Kirk MacDonald, Fifth Season (113-69-25)
NHL Affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers
AHL Affiliate: Lehigh Valley Phantoms
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 37-17-6, 80 points
Division Finish: 2nd, North
Overall ECHL Finish: 6th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.63 (16th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.93 (9th)
Power Play (Rank): 202.2% (6th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 78.5% (24th)
 
 
TROIS-RIVIÉRES LIONS
Location: Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Arena (Capacity): Le Nouveau Colisée (4,390)
Coach: Eric Belanger, 1st Season
NHL Affiliate: Montreal Canadiens
AHL Affiliate: Laval Rocket
 
 
WORCESTER RAILERS
Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
Arena (Capacity): DCU Center (5,600)
Coach: David Cunniff, Second Season (17-26-3)
NHL Affiliate: New York Islanders
AHL Affiliate: Bridgeport Sound Tigers
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 21-36-4, 46 points
Division Finish: 6th, North
Overall ECHL Finish: 25th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.64 (25th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.77 (T23rd)
Power Play (Rank): 11.6% (26th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.1% (18th)

South Division

ATLANTA GLADIATORS
Location: Duluth, Georgia
Arena (Capacity): Gas South Arena (9,119)
Coach: Jeff Pyle, 11th Season with Atlanta, 17th Season in ECHL (537-411-117)
NHL Affiliate: Ottawa Senators
AHL Affiliate: Belleville Senators
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 29-28-4, 62 points
Division Finish:4th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 17th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.28 (T10th)
Goals-Against Per Game (Rank)3.77 (T23rd)
Power Play (Rank): 19.9% (7th)
Penalty Kill (Rank): 81.4% (T14th)
 
 
FLORIDA EVERBLADES
Location: Estero, Florida
Arena (Capacity): Hertz Arena (7,186)
Coach: Brad Ralph, 6th Season with Florida, 9th Season in ECHL (366-146-47)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals to South Carolina (3 games to 2)
NHL Affiliate: Nashville Predators
AHL Affiliate: Milwaukee Admirals
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 42-19-8, 92 points
Conference Finish: 1st, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 1st
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.38 (1st)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.80 (4th)
Power Play (Rank): 15.4% (T11th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 85.0% (4th)
 
 
GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITS
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Arena (Capacity): Bon Secours Wellness Arena (7,044)
Coach: Andrew Lord, 2nd Season (38-19-15)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference Finals to South Carolina (3 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Florida Panthers
AHL Affiliate: Charlotte Checkers
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 38-19-5, 91 points
Conference Finish: 2nd, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 4th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.92 (8th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.83 (6th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.0% (10th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.6% (10th)
 
 
JACKSONVILLE ICEMEN
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Arena (Capacity): VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena (8,500)
Coach: Nick Luukko, 1st Season
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: New York Rangers
AHL Affiliate: Hartford Wolf Pack
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 34-30-7, 74 points
Conference Finish: 6th, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 10th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.89 (9th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.993 (8th)
Power Play (Rank): 17.3% (5th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 82.9% (7th)
 
 
NORFOLK ADMIRALS
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Arena (Capacity): Norfolk Scope (8,468)
Coach: Rod Taylor, 2nd Season (14-38-8)
NHL Affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes
AHL Affiliate: Chicago Wolves
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 14-38-8, 36 points
Division Finish:7th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 26th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.48 (26th)
Goals-Against Per Game (Rank)4.13 (26th)
Power Play (Rank): 14.6% (24th)
Penalty Kill (Rank): 78.6% (23rd)
 
ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS
Location: Orlando, Florida
Arena (Capacity): Amway Center (9,049)
Coach: Drake Berehowsky, 7th Season (196-171-44)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Quality
NHL Affiliate: Tampa Bay Lightning
AHL Affiliate: Syracuse Crunch
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 36-29-7, 79 points
Conference Finish: 5th, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 9th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.03 (6th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.22 (12th)
Power Play (Rank): 15.4% (T11th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 85.5% (3rd)
 
 
SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS
Location: North Charleston, South Carolina
Arena (Capacity): North Charleston Coliseum (7,250)
Coach: Ryan Blair, 2nd Season (34-23-13)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Kelly Cup Finals to Fort Wayne (3 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals
AHL Affiliate: Hershey Bears
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 34-23-13, 81 points
Division Finish: 4th, South      
Overall ECHL Finish: 7th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.09 (4th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.03 (9th)
Power Play (Rank): 17.1% (6th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 83.9% (6th)

Central Division

CINCINNATI CYCLONES
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Arena (Capacity): Heritage Bank Center (6,955)
Coach: Jason Payne, 1st Season
NHL Affiliate: Buffalo Sabres
AHL Affiliate: Rochester Americans
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 38-17-8, 84 points
Division Finish: 1st, Central
Overall ECHL Finish: 5th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.11 (16th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.56 (4th)
Power Play (Rank): 15.5% (20th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 84.2% (5th)
 
 
FORT WAYNE KOMETS
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Arena (Capacity): Memorial Coliseum (10,500)
Coach: Ben Boudreau, 3rd Season (60-40-13)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Won Kelly Cup championship (defeated South Carolina 3 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Vegas Golden Knights
AHL Affiliate: Henderson Silver Knights
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 29-17-5, 63 points
Conference Finish: 3rd, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 5th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.33 (2nd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.67 (1st)
Power Play (Rank): 25.9% (1st)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 86.8% (1st)
 
 
INDY FUEL
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Arena (Capacity): Indiana Farmers Coliseum (6,145)
Coach: Doug Christiansen, 3rd Season with Indy, 4th Season in ECHL (106-79-16)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference Semifinals to Greenville (3 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks
AHL Affiliate: Rockford IceHogs
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 37-24-8, 82 points
Conference Finish: 3rd, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 6th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.96 (7th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.88 (7th)
Power Play (Rank): 18.3% (3rd)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.0% (12th)
 
 
IOWA HEARTLANDERS
Location: Coralville, Iowa
Arena (Capacity): Xtream Arena (5,100)
Coach: Gerry Fleming, 1st Season with Iowa (320-189-67)
NHL Affiliate: Minnesota Wild
AHL Affiliate: Iowa Wild
 
 
KALAMAZOO WINGS
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Arena (Capacity): Wings Event Center (5,113)
Coach: Nick Bootland, 13th Season with Kalamazoo; 12th Season in ECHL (401-302-78)
NHL Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets
AHL Affiliate: Cleveland Monsters
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 23-30-8, 54 points
Division Finish: 5th, Central
Overall ECHL Finish: 22nd
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.18 (13th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.95 (25th)
Power Play (Rank): 17.8% (12th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 75.9% (26th)
 
 
TOLEDO WALLEYE
Location: Toledo, Ohio
Arena (Capacity): Huntington Center (7,431)
Coach: Dan Watson, 6th Season (183-87-26)
NHL Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings
AHL Affiliate: Grand Rapids Griffins
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 37-17-5, 79 points
Division Finish: 2nd, Central
Overall ECHL Finish: 7th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.81 (3rd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.76 (6th)
Power Play (Rank): 23.3% (3rd)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 87.8% (1st)
 
 
WHEELING NAILERS
Location: Wheeling, West Virginia
Arena (Capacity): WesBanco Arena (5,200)
Coach: Derek Army, 2nd Season (6-15-1)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Pittsburgh Penguins
AHL Affiliate: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 22-39-7, 51 points
Conference Finish: 7th, Eastern
Overall ECHL Finish: 14th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.88 (T10th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.54 (14th)
Power Play (Rank): 14.2% (14th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 78.2% (14th)

Mountain Division

ALLEN AMERICANS
Location: Allen, Texas
Arena (Capacity): Allen Event Center (6,200)
Coach: Steve Martinson, 8th Season with Allen, 13th Season in ECHL (483-277-94)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Western Conference Finals to Fort Wayne (3 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Seattle Kraken
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 45-23-4, 94 points
Conference Finish: 1st, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 2nd
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.28 (3rd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.72 (3rd)
Power Play (Rank): 20.5% (2nd)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.7% (9th)
 
 
IDAHO STEELHEADS
Location: Boise, Idaho
Arena (Capacity): Idaho Central Arena (5,006)
Coach: Everett Sheen, 2nd Season (36-18-7)
NHL Affiliate: Dallas Stars
AHL Affiliate: Texas Stars
 
2019-20 in review
Record: 36-18-7, 79 points
Division Finish: 2nd, Mountain
Overall ECHL Finish: 8th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.75 (22nd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.54 (3rd)
Power Play (Rank): 17.1% (14th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 87.7% (2nd)
 
 
KANSAS CITY MAVERICKS
Location: Independence, Missouri
Arena (Capacity): Cable Dahmer Arena (5,800)
Coach: Tad O’Had, 2nd Season (31-31-10)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Calgary Flames
AHL Affiliate: Stockton Heat
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 31-31-10, 72 points
Conference Finish: 6th, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 12th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.85 (12th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.14 (11th)
Power Play (Rank): 18.0% (4th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 82.8% (8th)
 
 
RAPID CITY RUSH
Location: Rapid City, South Dakota
Arena (Capacity): Rushmore Plaza Civic Center (5,119)
Coach: Scott Burt, 1st Season
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Arizona Coyotes
AHL Affiliate: Tucson Roadrunners
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 32-35-4, 68 points
Conference Finish: 7th, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 13th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.77 (13th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.27 (13th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.5% (8th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 79.6% (13th)
 
 
TULSA OILERS
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Arena (Capacity): BOK Center (17,096)
Coach: Rob Murray, 5th Season with Tulsa, 11th Season in ECHL (363-257-90)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Anaheim Ducks
AHL Affiliate: San Diego Gulls
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 30-28-14, 74 points
Conference Finish: 5th, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 11th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.50 (14th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.82 (5th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.1% (9th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.3% (11th)
 
 
UTAH GRIZZLIES
Location: West Valley City, Utah
Arena (Capacity): Maverik Center (10,207)
Coach: Ryan Kinasewich, 1st Season
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Western Conference Semifinals to Allen (3 games to 0)
NHL Affiliate: Colorado Avalanche
AHL Affiliate: Colorado Eagles
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 35-26-11, 81 points                                                               
Conference Finish: 4th, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 8th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.88 (T10th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.04 (10th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.8% (7th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 84.2% (5th)
 
 
WICHITA THUNDER
Location: Wichita, Kansas
Arena (Capacity): INTRUST Bank Arena (13,400)
Coach: Bruce Ramsay, 3rd Season with Wichita, 4th Season in ECHL (102-81-22)
2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Western Conference Semifinals to Fort Wayne (3 games to 2)
NHL Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers
AHL Affiliate: Bakersfield Condors
 
2020-21 in review
Record: 41-22-8, 90 points
Conference Finish: 2nd, Western
Overall ECHL Finish: 3rd
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.07 (5th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.68 (2nd)
Power Play (Rank): 14.3% (13th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 86.4% (2nd)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *