Times Have Changed In ECHL

By Len Bardsley
Staff Writer
The Times of Trenton

There are some records that are made not be broken. The ECHL may only be in its infancy compared to the NHL, but the growth of the league and improvement in overall play can be measured not necessarily in new standards set by players, but what was considered standard only 10 to 12 seasons ago.

The biggest change has come in scoring and penalty minutes.

Trevor Jobe produced a mark that will not be touched during the 1992-93 season when he scored 85 goals and added 76 assists for the Nashville Knights.

While there is no questioning Jobe’s offensive ability, one of the main reasons for his remarkable season was the weak opposition he was facing.

Malcolm Cameron (pictured), now the head coach of the Long Beach Ice Dogs, was on one of the best examples of the type of team that allowed Jobe’s kind of bloated numbers.

Cameron was a rookie defenseman for the Huntington Blizzard during the 1993-94 season, which allowed an average of 6.07 goals a game. Cameron had a plus/minus rating of minus 72, but when you consider the Blizzard allowed 222 more goals than they scored, Cameron’s mark does not seem so bad.

The Victoria Salmon Kings, a 15-win team last season, allowed a league worst 298 goals, 115 less than the Blizzard in four more games.

“It was my first year pro,” said Cameron of his season with the Blizzard. “I went to Greensboro for training camp, but five of us were traded to Huntington for two players. I ended up being captain by Christmas. It was one of the best experiences I ever had. We were the five best players on the team and we were all rookies.”

Cameron learned a lot about himself and his teammates when it was quickly evident what kind of struggle the Blizzard would go through that season. Huntington lost its third game of the season 15-0, and would later lose a game 16-4.

“To be captain of the worst team in the league was a valuable learning experience,” said Cameron. “You learn about character and perseverance and going to work despite the odds. I played for $280 a week, and I would have played for food stamps.”

The problem was Huntington simply didn’t have enough talent to compete.

“We had some very good players,” said Cameron. “The problem was there were not enough of them, and the bottom-end players had no business playing in the league. The rich got rich and the poor got poorer. Back then, the power-play percentages were about 30 percent and teams were averaging 5 1/2 goals per game. We will never see that again.

“The coaches are much better in this league and the pool of players much larger and the accessibility of those players is much easier. I left the league for a while and when I came back to coach (as an assistant with the Columbia Inferno in 2001), I could not believe how much it had improved.”

Cameron’s last season as a player was the 1995-96 season with the Johnstown Chiefs. His road-roommate with the Chiefs was Billy Tibbetts. Tibbetts was just a good young player with a mean streak with the Chiefs in 1995-96, scoring 37 goals and adding 31 assists along with 300 penalty minutes.

Tibbetts was not even close to the penalty-minutes leaders during the record-setting 1995-96 season. That honor went to the Louisiana IceGator’s Rob McCaig, who picked up 512 minutes. Trevor Senn of the Richmond Renegades was only a fighting major behind McCaig with 507 minutes that season, while Jason Clarke earned 491 for the Roanoke Express.

Tibbetts was back in the ECHL last season, but no one had the patience for his penalty-prone ways as he bounced from San Diego to Las Vegas to Idaho, playing only 35 games while earning 320 penalty minutes and several suspensions.

The Renegades led the league that season, averaging 47.2 penalty minutes a game. Last season, the Salmon Kings led the league in penalty minutes with 26.7 minutes per game.

Toledo Storm coach Nick Vitucci has been involved in the league since its inception as a player and coach, and is glad to see the days of McCaig long gone.

“I don’t see that happening anymore,” said Vitucci of a 500-penalty minute season. “With the rules and special teams, those role players don’t see the ice time. Our rosters don’t allow us to carry a thug to put on the end of the bench until the last five minutes of the game to go out and throw bombs and get in brawls. I don’t see that (McCaig’s record) getting touched and I hope it never does for the sake or our game.”