ECHL’s 30th season opens on Friday

The ECHL’s 30th 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. 13, 2017 to April 8, 2018. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

 

Four of the eight games on Opening Night feature divisional match-ups, including the Colorado Eagles raising their first-ever Kelly Cup championship banner when they host Mountain Division rival Utah. Other divisional meetings on Friday include Florida hosting Atlanta, Toledo visiting Quad City and Rapid City entertaining Allen. Other games slated for Oct. 13 have Wheeling traveling to Greenville, Wichita hosting Indy, Kansas City visiting Tulsa and Norfolk opening a western swing at Idaho.

 

The ECHL’s two newest teams both open their home schedules on Saturday as the Worcester Railers host Manchester and the Jacksonville Icemen entertain Orlando. Three other teams also host their home openers on Oct. 14 as Adirondack hosts Brampton, Fort Wayne hosts Toledo in a rematch of the 2017 Central Division Finals and Cincinnati welcomes Kalamazoo.

 

The lone game on Sunday’s ECHL schedule has the Brampton Beast hosting their home opener against Manchester, in a rematch of the 2017 North Division Finals.

 

New faces behind the benches

 

Seven of the 27 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2017-18 season gets underway.

 

In Reading, Kirk MacDonald enters his first full season as the club’s head coach after taking over for the final three games of the 2017-18 regular season and the team’s 2017 Kelly Cup Playoff run. MacDonald has been with the Royals as an assistant coach since 2014-15, and was a player on Reading’s 2013 Kelly Cup championship team. Meanwhile in Rapid City, Daniel Tetrault enters his first season as a professional head coach after serving as the Rush’s assistant coach last season.

 

Taking over as head coach in Adirondack is Brad Tapper, who spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach in the American Hockey League. Tapper returns to the ECHL, where he was an assistant coach with Florida and Orlando from 2011-14.

 

In Atlanta, Chuck Weber returns to the ECHL coaching ranks for the first time since 2009-10, when he led Cincinnati to its second Kelly Cup title in three seasons. Weber’s 45 career Kelly Cup Playoff wins is tied for fifth in ECHL history.

 

Jason Christie, the ECHL’s all-time leader with 547 career wins in 14 seasons with Peoria, Utah, Ontario and Tulsa, enters his first season as head coach of Jacksonville while Rob Murray, who spent the previous six seasons as head coach of the Alaska Aces, including leading the team to the 2014 Kelly Cup title, replaces Christie behind the bench in Tulsa.

 

Jamie Russell is the first head coach of the Worcester Railers. Russell was head coach in Elmira from 2014-16, leading the Jackals to a 69-63-12 record in that span.

 

Approaching milestones

 

A pair of ECHL goaltenders look to continue their ascent up the league’s all-time lists during the 2017-18 season.

 

Kalamazoo’s Joel Martin ranks fifth among goaltenders in ECHL history with 345 games played. He trails 2016 ECHL Hall of Fame inductee Daniel Berthiaume for fourth place by 19 appearances and is 21 appearances behind 2013 ECHL Hall of Fame inductee Marc Magliarditi for third all-time.

 

Martin has 177 wins in eight ECHL seasons with the K-Wings, Columbus (Ga.), Trenton and Elmira. He is 23 wins shy of becoming just the fourth goaltender in league history to reach the 200-win plateau.

 

Allen’s Riley Gill, who is the ECHL’s all-time leader with 53 career postseason wins, enters the season eighth all-time with 145 career regular-season wins in eight seasons with the Americans, Reading, Kalamazoo and Victoria and he needs 21 wins to move into the top six in league history. Gill’s 21 career ECHL shutouts rank third all-time in league history, and is just four shy of Magliarditi’s all-time record of 25.

 

Jacksonville forward Garet Hunt enters the season fifth all-time in ECHL history with 2,177 penalty minutes in 565 career games with Stockton and Alaska. He needs 77 penalty minutes to move into second place in league history.

 

In the coaching ranks, Christie will tie 2012 ECHL Hall of Fame inductee John Marks for the most games coached in league history in Jacksonville’s season opener on Saturday when he coaches his 1,008th career ECHL game.

 

Allen head coach Steve Martinson and Wichita’s Malcolm Cameron enter the season tied for seventh in ECHL history with 338 career wins. The two will look to enter the top six in league history this season, as they close in on the career marks of Matt Thomas (342) and Larry Courville (343).