ECHL’s 26th season opens this week

ECHL season faces off on Friday

The ECHL’s 26th season begins on Friday with six games in six states, continues on Saturday with 10 games in eight states and concludes with one game on Sunday.

Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that has 22 teams in 15 states playing 792 games from Oct. 18, 2013 to April 13, 2014. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

Four of the six games on Friday’s schedule are divisional match-ups with Wheeling hosting Elmira, Greenville visiting Gwinnett, Florida playing host to Orlando and Idaho at Utah. The other two games have Colorado at Bakersfield and San Francisco visiting Alaska, in a rematch of a 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals series.

Saturday’s action is highlighted by the Reading Royals raising their first-ever Kelly Cup championship banner to the rafters in a pre-game ceremony prior to their match-up against South Carolina. Seven other teams host their home opener on Saturday with Orlando hosting Florida, Cincinnati home against Wheeling, Fort Wayne entertaining Toledo, Evansville hosting Kalamazoo, Ontario entertaining Bakersfield and Stockton, which will raise its Western Conference championship banner, hosting Colorado.

New faces behind the benches

Nine of the 22 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2013-14 season gets underway.

Troy Mann takes over in Bakersfield, looking to lead the Condors back to the Kelly Cup Playoffs after a two-year absence. Mann was previously the head coach of the Columbia Inferno from 2006-08, and has spent the previous four seasons as an assistant coach with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

In Cincinnati, Ben Simon receives his first head-coaching assignment, taking over for 2012-13 ECHL Coach of the Year Jarrod Skalde, who has joined the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals as an assistant coach. Simon had an 11-year playing career, including time in the ECHL with Kalamazoo, and has been an assistant coach with Rockford of the AHL for the previous two seasons.

Jeff Pyle returns to the ECHL as the new head coach in Evansville. Pyle, who was head coach of Mobile from 1998-2002 and Gwinnett from 2003-11 before spending the 2011-12 season as head coach of the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, is third in ECHL history in games coached (860) and wins (446).

The Fort Wayne Komets have tapped the club’s former assistant coach, Gary Graham, as the team’s new head coach. Graham made his head coaching debut last season with Pensacola of the Southern Professional Hockey League, leading the Ice Flyers to the league title.

In Gwinnett, Rick Emmett slides into the head-coaching role after serving as an assistant coach for the previous two seasons to John Wroblewski, who joined the AHL’s Rochester Americans as an assistant coach over the summer. Emmett had an 11-year playing career, which featured ECHL stops in South Carolina, Columbus (Ohio), Johnstown, Macon, Greenville and Gwinnett.

Former team captain Mike Madill takes over as the new head coach in Las Vegas. Madill played five of the last six seasons with the Wranglers, and is the club’s all-time leader with 336 games played. He was an ECHL All-Star in 2007 while with Texas.

Vince Williams is the new head coach in Orlando after spending the previous two seasons as head coach in Trenton. Williams, who appeared in 461 career ECHL games as a player, also saw time as a player with the Solar Bears in the original International Hockey League during the 2000-01 season.

Taking over as new head coach of the defending Western Conference champion Stockton Thunder is Rich Kromm. The former NHL left-winger with Calgary and the New York Islanders spent the previous three seasons as head coach in Evansville.

Tim Branham gets his first head coaching job in Utah. Branham served as an assistant coach in Reading for the past four seasons, helping to lead the Royals to the 2013 Kelly Cup title. Branham enjoyed a lengthy suiting up in 284 games in the ECHL and AHL in a career that spanned from 2002-10.

Approaching milestones

Kalamazoo’s Sam Ftorek enters the 2013-14 season tied for third in ECHL history with 697 games played. He is just three games shy of becoming only the third player in League history to reach the 700 games played plateau. Cam Brown, a 2010 inductee into the ECHL Hall of Fame, is the ECHL all-time leader with 789 games played while Louis Dumont ranks second with 771.

Las Vegas’ Adam Huxley is sixth on the ECHL’s career penalty minutes list with 1,876. He is 228 minutes shy of Lance Galbraith, who is fifth with 2,104.

Alaska goaltender Gerald Coleman enters the season 12th on the League’s career wins list with 120. He is just one win behind David Brumby for 11th place, and nine wins shy of Scott Stirling, who is in 10th place with 129 career wins. Coleman, who has won at least 18 games four times in the last five seasons, is 26 wins shy of tying Cory Cadden for sixth place. Current Toledo Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci is the ECHL’s all-time leader in wins with 265.

On the coaching front, Ontario head coach Jason Christie is four wins shy of joining John Marks, John Brophy and Jeff Pyle as the only coaches in ECHL history to reach the 400-win mark.

Pyle will move into second place on the League’s career games coached list after 23 games this season while he needs 35 wins to move past Brophy into second place on the all-time wins list.