ECHL season faces off on Friday


The ECHL’s 27th season begins on Friday with seven games in seven states, continues on Saturday with 11 games in nine states and concludes with three games in three states on Sunday.

Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that has 28 teams in 20 states and one Canadian province playing 1,008 games from Oct. 17, 2014 to April 11, 2015. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

The 2014-15 season features eight new teams to the ECHL – Allen Americans, Brampton Beast, Indy Fuel, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder.

Two of the new teams will host their first ECHL games on Opening Night with the Fuel hosting their in-state rival Fort Wayne at the newly renovated Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum while Rapid City hosts Colorado at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. The other four games on Friday’s slate include Elmira hosting Kalamazoo, South Carolina visiting Florida, Idaho at Utah and the Alaska Aces raising their third Kelly Cup championship banner in team history when they host Ontario at Sullivan Arena.

Saturday’s action is highlighted by seven teams opening their home schedule. Fort Wayne hosts Indy and Idaho entertains Utah in the back end of opening weekend home-and-home series. Other teams opening their home schedules are Wheeling against Reading, Toledo hosting Cincinnati, Evansville entertaining Gwinnett, Orlando against Greenville, and Bakersfield hosting Stockton. The Thunder will host the Condors on Sunday in their home opener.

New faces behind the benches

Eight of the 28 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2014-15 season gets underway.

J.F. Houle takes over in Bakersfield as the Condors are coming off their first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Houle spent the previous three-plus seasons as head coach with Lewiston and Blainville-Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

After spending last season as the team’s assistant coach, Brent Hughes takes over the head-coaching reins in Brampton.

In Cincinnati, Matt Macdonald moves over after spending the past two seasons as the Cyclones’ assistant coach. Macdonald also spent parts of three seasons as a player in Cincinnati.

Jamie Russell gets his first professional head coaching assignment in Elmira. Russell spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach at Providence College, and has prior head-coaching experience with Michigan Tech University from 2003-11.

Former Elmira head coach Dwight Mullins takes over as the new bench boss in Evansville. Mullins has won 39 games or more in four of his five seasons as a head coach.

The Indy Fuel will be led by Scott Hillman in their first season. Hillman joins the Fuel with seven seasons of coaching experience, including the last five years with the Missouri Mavericks.

Taking over for Hillman in Missouri is Richard Matvichuk. The eighth-overall selection in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, Matvichuk played 796 career games in the National Hockey League and was part of the Dallas Stars’ 1999 Stanley Cup championship squad.

Derek Lalonde joins Toledo as the Walleye’s new head coach. Lalonde spent the previous three seasons as head coach of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, where in 2011-12, he led the club to a 47-9-4 record and the league title.

Approaching milestones

Kalamazoo’s Sam Ftorek enters the 2014-15 season third all-time in ECHL history with 767 games played. He is just five games shy of passing Louis Dumont into second place in League history, and only 22 games shy of the ECHL record of 789 career games which is held by Cam Brown, a 2010 inductee into the ECHL Hall of Fame.

On the coaching front, Ontario head coach Jason Christie is just nine games shy of becoming only the fourth coach in ECHL history to reach the 800-games coached plateau. Christie, who has an all-time record of 440-263-88 in 11 seasons with Peoria, Utah and Ontario, is 38 wins shy of moving into third place in ECHL history, 41 wins shy of second place and 52 wins shy of surpassing John Marks, a 2012 inductee into the ECHL Hall of Fame, for most wins in League history.