ECHL's 31st season opens on Friday

The 31st season of the ECHL begins with Opening Weekend on Friday with six games, continues on Saturday with 13 games and concludes with three games 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 20 states and two Canadian province playing 972 games from Oct. 12, 2018 to April 7, 2019. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.


The first game of the 2018-19 season features one of the ECHL’s two new teams this season – the Newfoundland Growlers – hosting the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Everblades at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Four of the other five games on Friday feature divisional match-ups as Indy hosts Fort Wayne, Idaho visits Wichita, Kansas City entertains Allen and Rapid City travels to Allen. The other action on Friday has Toledo heading to Greenville to take on the Swamp Rabbits.


The ECHL’s other new addition – the Maine Mariners, bring hockey back to Portland, Maine on Saturday when they host Adirondack. Seven other teams open their home schedule on Saturday including Brampton hosting Manchester, Reading taking on Worcester, Norfolk welcoming Wheeling, Jacksonville meeting South Carolina, Orlando hosting Atlanta, Cincinnati entertaining Fort Wayne and Tulsa taking on Idaho.


New faces behind the benches


Nine of the 27 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2018-19 season gets underway.


After serving as Adirondack’s assistant coach for the previous three seasons, Alex Lox assumes the head coaching role for the Thunder after previous head coach Brad Tapper accepted a position as an assistant coach with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.


In Atlanta, Jeff Pyle returns to the Gladiators, where he previously served as head coach from 2003-10. Overall in 13 seasons as an ECHL head coach with Mobile, Gwinnett and Evansville, Pyle is 477-353-102, and ranks third all-time in league history with 932 games coached while his 477 wins are fourth all time.


Another familiar face returning to the ECHL is Matt Thomas, who takes over as head coach in Cincinnati. Thomas, who is the ECHL’s all-time leader with 49 career postseason wins, has amassed an overall record of 342-225-80 in nine seasons with Atlantic City, Fresno and Stockton. His 342 regular-season wins are tied for ninth in league history.


Taking over as head coach in Greenville is Kevin Kerr, who has spent the previous three seasons with Macon of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Kerr went 94-56-18 with the Mayhem, and led the club to the 2017 Presidents’ Cup championship.


Riley Armstong is the first head coach of the Maine Mariners. After wrapping up a 12-year playing career following the 2015-16 season, Armstrong spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with Wheeling.


Taking over as the new head coach in Manchester is Doug Christiansen, who spent the last four seasons as the Director of Player Development & Recruitment for the United States Hockey League. Prior to that, he spent seven seasons as a head coach for three separate teams in the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom.


Ryane Clowe, who racked up over 300 points in nearly 500 career NHL games, is the first head coach of the Newfoundland Growlers. Clowe served as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils the past two seasons.


In South Carolina, Spiros Anastas takes over for Ryan Warsofsky, who has moved on to become an assistant coach with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Anastas gets his first taste as a head coach in professional hockey after serving as the head coach for the University of Lethbridge since the 2014-15 season.


The new head coach in Wheeling is Mike Bavis, who joins the Nailers with 17 years of assistant coaching experience, 15 of which came at his alma mater, Boston University. Bavis also spent one season with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and one season at Babson College.


Approaching milestones


Jacksonville’s Garet Hunt is on the verge of becoming the most penalized player in ECHL history. Hunt enters the 2018-19 season second in league history with 2,398 career penalty minutes, just 27 minutes behind the all-time leader, Cam Brown.


Toledo’s Pat Nagle enters the season sixth in league history with 160 career wins. He is 13 wins shy of Jason Saal, who ranks fifth all-time. Last season, Nagle won 37 games, tied for the second most wins in a single season by a goaltender in ECHL history.


In the coaching ranks, Atlanta’s Jeff Pyle ranks fourth in ECHL history with 477 wins, and needs 23 wins to join Jacksonville’s Jason Christie as the only coaches to reach the 500-win plateau in league history. Pyle is 68 games shy of reaching 1,000-games coached in the league, a mark only reached by Christie (1,079) and 2012 ECHL Hall of Fame inductee John Marks (1,008).


Allen’s Steve Martinson enters the season fifth all-time in league history with 373 wins, while Wichita’s Malcolm Cameron is sixth with 372 victories. Kalamazoo’s Nick Bootland and Cincinnati’s Matt Thomas are tied for eighth with 342 wins, each coach sitting just one win behind Larry Courville for seventh place on the league’s all-time wins list.