Jacksonville Sports Day

ECHL’s 32nd Season Opens on Friday; Preview of South Division

PRINCETON, N.J. – The 32nd season of the ECHL begins with Opening Wekeend on Friday with seven 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 26 teams in 19 states and two Canadian province playing 936 games from Oct. 11, 2019 to April 5, 2020.

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 2019-20 season features the defending Kelly Cup champion Newfoundland Growlers raising their championship banner as they host the Reading Royals. Last season, Newfoundland became the first ECHL team since Greensboro in 1990 to win the League title in its first season of existence.

Five of the other six games on Friday feature divisional match-ups as Maine hosts Adirondack, Florida visits Norfolk, Allen entertains Rapid City, Tulsa hosts Wichita and Idaho travels to Utah. The other action on Friday has Indy heading to Wichita to take on the Thunder.

Seven other teams open their home schedule on Saturday including Brampton hosting Toledo, Worcester taking on Adirondack, Orlando welcoming South Carolina, Jacksonville meeting Greenville, Cincinnati hosting Wheeling, Fort Wayne entertaining Kalamazoo and Kansas City taking on Indy.

New faces behind the benches

Seven of the 26 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2019-20 season gets underway.

Spiros Anastas takes over in Brampton after previous head coach Colin Chaulk was hired as an assistant coach for Belleville in the American Hockey League. Anastas led South Carolina to its 12th consecutive appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs last season in his first season as an ECHL head coach.

In Fort Wayne, Ben Boudreau slides over the head coaching spot after serving as the Komets assistant coach for the previous two seasons. Prior to joining the Komets, Boudreau spent two seasons as an assistant coach in Norfolk and one in Bakersfield.

Another former assistant coach earning a promotion to the top spot is Everett Sheen in Idaho after Neil Graham was hired as an assistant coach for Texas of the American Hockey League. Sheen has spent the previous three seasons as the Steelheads’ assistant coach after wrapping up a five-year playing career, a majority of which was spent in the ECHL.

Taking over as head coach in Indy is Doug Christiansen, who led Manchester to a 39-29-4 record last season in his first season as a head coach in North America. The Monarchs advanced to the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, where they fell to eventual-champion Newfoundland in six games.

Rod Taylor assumes his first head coaching job with the Norfolk Admirals. Taylor, who was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2009, ranks second all-time in ECHL history with 368 goals. third with 685 points and seventh with 678 games played.

After spending the last three seasons as the team’s assistant coach, Steve Bergin is the new head coach for South Carolina.

In Wichita, Bruce Ramsay returns to the ECHL as head coach of the Thunder. Ramsay led Tulsa to a 37-29-6 record in his only season in the ECHL in 2014-15 before spending three seasons in the American Hockey League as an assistant coach with Grand Rapids.

Approaching milestones

Several ECHL coaches on the verge of milestones in the 2019-20 season.

Atlanta’s Jeff Pyle, who ranks second all-time with 508 wins, is just five games away from passing John Marks for the second-most games coached in ECHL history. Pyle enters the season with 1,004 games coached in his ECHL tenure with Atlanta/Gwinnett, Evansville and Mobile.

The ECHL’s 400-win club figures to grow this year as Allen’s Steve Martinson (398 wins entering his season), Cincinnati’s Matt Thomas (393) and Kalamazoo’s Nick Bootland (378) all have the mark within their reach. Entering this season, only five coaches in ECHL history have won at least 400 games (Jason Christie, Jeff Pyle, John Marks, John Brophy and Malcolm Cameron).

Adirondack’s Casey Pierro-Zabotel enters the 2019-20 season as the ECHL’s active career scoring leader with 504 points (149g-355a) in 558 career games, making him one of just 28 players in ECHL history to have scored at least 500 points.

Pierro-Zabotel is also 42 games shy of becoming just the 11th player in ECHL history to reach the 600 games played plateau.

Greenville’s Michael Pelech also looks to move up the career games played list this season. Pelech enters the campaign ninth in league history with 642 games played and looks to become only the fifth player to play in at least 700 games.

Toledo’s Pat Nagle enters the season fifth in league history with 182 career wins. He is 18 wins shy of passing Joel Martin, who ranks fourth all-time with 199 wins and becoming just the fourth goaltender in league history to win at least 200 games. Last season, Nagle sits in sixth place all-time in both games played among goaltenders (313) and shutouts (16).

South Division Capsules

ATLANTA GLADIATORS
Location: Duluth, Georgia
Arena (Capacity): Infinite Energy Arena (9,119)
Coach: Jeff Pyle, 10th Season with Atlanta, 15th Season in ECHL (508-383-113)
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Boston Bruins
AHL Affiliate: Providence Bruins
2018-19 in review
Record: 31-30-11, 73 points
Division Finish: 5th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 21st
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.74 (24th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.93 (6th)
Power Play (Rank): 19.6% (6th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 83.2% (10th)

FLORIDA EVERBLADES
Location: Estero, Florida
Arena (Capacity): Hertz Arena (7,186)
Coach: Brad Ralph, Fourth Season with Florida, Seventh Season in ECHL (281-114-37)
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost Eastern Conference Finals to Newfoundland (4 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Nashville Predators
AHL Affiliate: Milwaukee Admirals
2018-19 in review
Record: 50-16-6, 106 points
Division Finish: 1st, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 2nd
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.83 (2nd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 2.51 (2nd)
Power Play (Rank): 18.6% (12th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 84.8% (6th)

GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITS
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Arena (Capacity): Bon Secours Wellness Arena (7,044)
Coach: Kevin Kerr, First Season
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes
AHL Affiliate: Charlotte Checkers
2018-19 in review
Record: 25-41-6, 56 points
Division Finish: 7th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 26th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.67 (26th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.53 (T24th)
Power Play (Rank): 14.3% (25th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 78.2% (26th)

JACKSONVILLE ICEMEN
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Arena (Capacity): Veterans Memorial Arena (8,500)
Coach: Jason Christie, Third Season with Jacksonville, 17th Season in ECHL (609-420-122)
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost South Division Semifinals to Florida (4 games to 2)
NHL Affiliate: Winnipeg Jets
AHL Affiliate: Manitoba Moose
2018-19 in review
Record: 36-32-4, 76 points
Division Finish: 4th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 18th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 2.75 (23rd)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.01 (T7th)
Power Play (Rank): 12.3% (27th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 87.5% (1st)

NORFOLK ADMIRALS
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Arena (Capacity): Norfolk Scope (8,701)
Coach: Rod Taylor, First Season
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Did Not Qualify
NHL Affiliate: Independent
AHL Affiliate: Independent
2018-19 in review
Record: 27-36-9, 63 points
Division Finish: 6th, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 25th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.03 (21st)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.86 (27th)
Power Play (Rank): 15.7% (20th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 81.3% (19th)

ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS
Location: Orlando, Florida
Arena (Capacity): Amway Center (9,049)
Coach: Drake Berehowsky, Fifth Season (133-113-31)
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost South Division Finals to Florida (4 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Tampa Bay Lightning
AHL Affiliate: Syracuse Crunch
2018-19 in review
Record: 41-25-6, 88 points
Division Finish: 2nd, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 7th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.49 (4th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.31 (18th)
Power Play (Rank): 16.2% (17th)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 78.0% (27th)

SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS
Location: North Charleston, South Carolina
Arena (Capacity): North Charleston Coliseum (7,250)
Coach: Steve Bergin, First Season
2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs: Lost South Division Semifinals to Orlando (4 games to 1)
NHL Affiliate: Washington Capitals
AHL Affiliate: Hershey Bears
2018-19 in review
Record: 35-31-6, 76 points
Division Finish: 3rd, South
Overall ECHL Finish: 17th
Goals Per Game (Rank): 3.07 (T19th)
Goals-Against Average (Rank): 3.10 (12th)
Power Play (Rank): 15.6% (21st)
Penalty Killing (Rank): 86.3% (2nd)

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