ECHL coaches a mix of youth, experience


ECHL Communications Intern


There are some new faces behind the bench throughout the league this season, as nine head coaches will enter their first ECHL season with their current squad. Yet this crop of coaches is not short on ECHL experience, as 14 of the 20 coaches played in the league, and includes two of the winningest coaches in ECHL history.


The nine new coaches across the ECHL include the two expansion teams in Chicago and Colorado, each of whom boasts an experienced leader to ease their transition to the ECHL.


Steve Martinson will lead Chicago in its first ECHL season. Martinson has been a head coach for 15 seasons and has never missed the postseason, including six championships at multiple levels. He spent four years in the ECHL previously in San Diego and Elmira, posting a 166-89-33 record with the Gulls and Jackals. He also coached San Diego in the WCHL for eight years, and was head coach of Rockford in the UHL from 2004-07.


Chris Stewart will guide the Colorado Eagles in their first season in the ECHL. He has been with the team since 2003, serving as head coach of the team in the Central Hockey League from 2003-04 thru 2007-08 and again in 2010-11. He also serves as the team’s president and general manager. Stewart has led Colorado to a playoff berth every season as a coach, and twice won the President’s Cup as champions of the CHL.


A familiar face takes over in Ontario, as Jason Christie returns to the league. Christie is seventh in ECHL history with 307 wins and 576 games coached, coming when he coached the Peoria Rivermen and the Utah Grizzlies. In his eight years coaching in the ECHL, he has a career 307-203-66 record with six playoff appearances. He returns to the league after a stint with the Central Hockey League’s Bloomington Prairie Thunder last season, where he was named CHL Coach of the Year.


Rob Murray takes over for the defending Kelly Cup Champion Alaska Aces, replacing Brent Thompson after Thompson, the 2010-11 ECHL Coach of the Year, was named the head coach of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Murray spent the past eight seasons with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, including the past three seasons as head coach. He was 117-103-20 as coach of the Bruins, and led the squad to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008-09. During his 16-year playing career, Murray skated in 107 NHL games with Washington, Winnipeg and Phoenix.


The Trenton Titans will also maintain some familiarity at the top, as former Titans defenseman Vince Williams will lead the team for the upcoming season. Williams skated in 335 games with the Titans, the second most in team history. He spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach with the Trenton Devils.


For the first time since moving to Georgia in 2002-03, the Gwinnett Gladiators will have a new man behind the bench, as John Wroblewski takes over for Jeff Pyle. Wroblewski was an assistant coach with the Wheeling Nailers last season, and helped guide them to the Eastern Conference Finals, their best postseason finish since 1998. He previously coached with the USA Hockey Under 18 Development program for four years, and also played four seasons in the ECHL with the Fresno Falcons.


Pat Bingham will coach the Elmira Jackals, after spending five of the previous six seasons with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, including as the head coach for the final 65 games last season. Previously, he coached four teams in the UHL (Fort Wayne, Adirondack, Asheville and Huntsville) and was head coach of the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers for two seasons. In 2003-04, he won ECHL Coach of the Year when the Nailers set team records for points and wins.


Matt O’Dette takes the reigns for the Bakersfield Condors for his first season, replacing Marty Raymond, who coached the team for eight seasons, and led the Condors to seven consecutive playoff appearances. O’Dette is in his first season as a head coach, having spent the past two years as an assistant coach with the Stockton Thunder. He concluded his 13 year professional career with 14 games as a player-assistant with the Thunder in 2009-10 and was an assistant coach in Stockton in 2010-11.


The final first year head coach is Spencer Carbery, who will head the South Carolina Stingrays. Carbery will be the youngest coach in the league at 29 years old, and was an assistant coach for the team last season. Carbery also played for the Stingrays in the 2008-09 season, helping the team win its ECHL-record third Kelly Cup championship.


The eleven returning coaches bring a wealth of coaching experience. Among the returnees, none brings more ECHL coaching experience to the table than Stockton’s Matt Thomas. He is entering his third full season behind the bench for the Thunder, but he has been an ECHL head coach consecutively since 2004-05, starting with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies for one season, and then spending three and a half seasons with the Fresno Falcons. Thomas has 271 career wins, and needs just 29 more to become the eighth member of the 300-win coaching club.  He has taken his team to the Kelly Cup Playoffs each year, and coached in the 2005 and 2009 All-Star Games.


Nick Vitucci returns for his third season as the coach of the Toledo Walleye, and should be well known to ECHL fans in Toledo. In addition to the Walleye, Vitucci coached the ECHL’s Toledo Storm from 2003-04 to 2006-07, where he was named the 2005 ECHL Coach of the Year, and has amassed a career record of 208-167-34 while coaching in Toledo. He also had an extremely successful playing career between the pipes in the ECHL, highlighted by leading Toledo to the ECHL Championship in 1994. He was twice named First-Team All-ECHL, once named Goaltender of the Year, and was named to the ECHL 15th Anniversary team in 2003. Vitucci was also part of the inaugural class inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2008.


Greenville’s Dean Stork returns for his second season with the Road Warriors after he flourished in his first year behind the bench. In his first season he led the team to the South Division championship and the best record in the Eastern Conference at 46-22-4, and was runner-up for ECHL Coach of the Year. Prior to being named head coach in Greenville he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Cyclones for four seasons, where they won Kelly Cup championships in 2008 and 2010.


The Kalamazoo Wings will be led by Nick Bootland, who is entering his fourth season at the team’s helm. He coached Kalamzoo for their three seasons in the ECHL, in addition to one year in the IHL. Bootland led the team to the North Division championship in their first two seasons in the ECHL, and last year took the squad to the Kelly Cup Finals. He also spent four seasons playing in Kalamazoo, including leading the team to its first championship in 26 years in 2006, where he was named playoff MVP.


Larry Courville is back in Reading for his third full season as head coach of the Royals. After taking over during the 2008-09 season, Courville has compiled a 96-71-15 record and taken the team to the playoffs twice. In his first full season in Reading he led the team to the Conference Finals and tied team records for wins and points.


Another ECHL veteran is Las Vegas’ Ryan Mougenel, who will begin his third year with the Wranglers. Mougenel has guided the team to a combined record of 72-59-13 and two playoff appearances in his two years in Las Vegas. His ECHL experience is vast, having spent four years as an assistant coach with Fresno and Stockton, and skating in 180 ECHL games with four teams, including a Kelly Cup championship in 2003 with Atlantic City.


Utah’s Kevin Colley returns for his fourth season at the helm of the Grizzlies, and is the second youngest coach in the ECHL at 32 years old. He has led Utah to 95 wins and three consecutive playoff appearances in his time with the Grizzlies, and also won the ECHL title as a player in 2003.


Greg Poss is in his second season with the Florida Everblades, leading the team to a 37-30-5 record and a playoff berth last season. Poss also was an assistant coach in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign, and spent eight seasons overseas as a head coach in the German Elite League. He also has coaching experience at the National level as an assistant coach with USA Hockey.


Jarrod Skalde enters his second season as the head coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones. In his first season behind the bench he went 33-29-10, and led the team to the playoffs. Previously, he spent two seasons as the head coach of the Bloomington Prairie Thunder in the IHL, and skated in 115 NHL games with eight teams.


Wheeling’s Stan Drulia enters his second season behind the Nailers’ bench looking for his 100th ECHL win. Drulia, who took Wheeling to their first appearance in the Conference Finals since 1998 last season, also spent two years in the ECHL coaching the August Lynx and has 98 wins at the ECHL level. Drulia also scored 140 points in 1990-91 for Knoxville and was named the ECHL’s Most Valuable Player.


Finally, Hardy Sauter returns as coach for the Idaho Steelheads after leading the club to a 32-27-13 record and a Conference Semifinals appearance last season. Sauter, who spent the previous three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, also spent one season playing in the ECHL for Tallahassee.