The ECHL’s 29th season begins on Friday with eight games, continues on Saturday with 12 games 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 27 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province playing 972 games from Oct. 14, 2016 to April 8, 2017. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
Division rivalries are highlighted on Opening Night as six of the eight games on the schedule feature divisional matchups. In the Mountain Division, Utah hosts Idaho while Rapid City entertains Colorado while Central Division foes Quad City and Fort meet in Moline, Ill. A 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs rematch takes place in Manchester as the Monarchs host North-Division rival Adirondack and South Division opponents Greenville and Florida meet at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla. Other games slated for Oct. 14 have Cincinnati visiting Indy, Norfolk hosting Kalamazoo for the first-time ever and Atlanta home against Toledo.
Seven teams open their home schedules on Oct. 15 with a trio of rematches from Opening Night switching venues – Cincinnati entertains Indy, Colorado hosts Rapid City and Fort Wayne is home against Quad City. Also on Saturday, Wheeling opens its 25th season in the ECHL hosting Brampton, Allen entertains Missouri, Reading hosts Elmira and Wichita hosts Tulsa.
Allen seeks unprecedented third straight ECHL title
The Allen Americans have captured the Kelly Cup title in each of the last two seasons, and this season look to become the first team to capture ECHL titles in three consecutive seasons.
Allen is the third team to win back-to-back titles, joining the Hampton Roads Admirals (1991 and 1992 Riley Cup championships) and Toledo Storm (1992 and 1993 Riley Cup) as ECHL clubs to have successfully defended their championships. Neither of those teams survived past round one of the playoffs in their bids for a third straight title as the Admirals fell to Raleigh 3 games to 1 in the 1993 East Division Semifinals and the Storm were eliminated by Nashville 3 games to 1 in the 1995 First Round.
Two other teams have reached the ECHL Finals in back-to-back years. Carolina won the 1989 Riley Cup 4 games to 3 over Johnstown before falling to Greensboro 4 games to 1 in the 1990 Finals. The Thunderbirds did not qualify for the 1991 Riley Cup Playoffs in their efforts to reach three straight Finals. The Florida Everblades sustained losses in consecutive Finals – falling to Idaho in 2004 and Trenton in 2005 – before being eliminated by Gwinnett 3 games to 1 in the 2006 South Division Finals.
New faces behind the benches
Eleven of the 27 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2016-17 season gets underway.
Four of the coaches aren’t totally new behind their respective team’s bench. Both Indy’s Bernie John and Rapid City’s Mark Desantis assumed their roles in the latter half of last season while Toledo’s Dan Watson, who was the Walleye’s interim head coach late in the 2013-14 season, has served as the club’s assistant or associate coach since the 2009-10 season. In Wheeling, Jeff Christian enters his first season as the team’s head coach, but he did serve as the Nailers’ interim coach for the final three rounds of the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs, leading the team to the Finals for the first time since 1993.
Three other head coaches slide over after serving as their teams’ assistant coach. Aaron Schneekloth assumes the head-coaching spot in Colorado after spending three seasons as the Eagles’ assistant coach while John-Scott Dickson takes over as Missouri’s head coach after one season as an assistant coach. Ryan Warsofsky is the new man in charge for South Carolina, becoming the fifth-youngest coach in ECHL history after three seasons as the Stingrays’ assistant coach.
In Elmira, Dave Leger is the Jackals’ new head coach after spending the 2015-16 season as an assistant coach in Evansville while Brad Ralph returns to the ECHL as the new head coach in Florida. Ralph went 132-64-20 in three seasons as head coach in Idaho before spending last season with Kelowna of the Western Hockey League.
Former ECHL defenseman Rod Aldoff returns to the league as a head coach, as he joins the Norfolk Admirals. Aldoff led Pensacola to a pair of Southern Professional Hockey League titles in his three seasons as the team’s head coach.
Malcolm Cameron is back as a coach in the ECHL for the first time since the 2010-11 season as he takes over the reins in Wichita. Cameron enters the season tied for seventh all-time in ECHL history with 317 wins and 10th with 555 games coached.
A pair of ECHL goaltenders look to continue their ascent up the league’s all-time lists during the 2016-17 season.
Kalamazoo’s Joel Martin ranks fifth in ECHL history with 158 wins in seven seasons with the K-Wings, Columbus (Ga.), Trenton and Elmira. He needs 16 wins to move into fourth place on the league’s all-time wins list.
Allen’s Riley Gill, who last season became the ECHL’s all-time leader with 48 career postseason wins, enters the season tied for 15th all-time with 113 career regular-season wins in seven seasons with the Americans, Reading, Kalamazoo and Victoria. Gill needs 22 wins to move into the top 10 in league history.
A pair of ECHL coaches look to move the all-time list this season as well. Wichita’s Malcolm Cameron enters the campaign with 317 wins, which is tied for seventh in league history, and he needs 26 wins to enter the top 5. Reading’s Larry Courville ranks ninth all-time in ECHL history with 305 wins and is 38 wins shy of the top five.