ECHL 2009-10 Season Begins Thursday
ECHL 2009-10 Season Begins Thursday
Tuesday, Oct. 13th, 2009
The ECHL will open its 22nd season on Thursday when the Reading Royals host the Kalamazoo Wings, who are the newest member of the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, at the Sovereign Center.
The league will play seven games on Friday and nine games on Saturday before concluding opening weekend with four games on Sunday.
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that will have 20 teams in 15 states and British Columbia playing 720 games from Thursday to Apr. 3, 2010.
The Johnstown Chiefs have been a member of the league for all 22 seasons playing at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena while the Wheeling Nailers return for its 18th season and the Charlotte Checkers and the Kelly Cup champion South Carolina Stingrays each celebrate their 17th year. Toledo returns for its 16th season while the Florida Everblades celebrate their 12th year and Trenton its 11th season in the ECHL.
The third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, the ECHL is the only minor professional hockey league to increase average attendance each of the last two seasons. The ECHL averaged 4,258 per game in 2008-09 which is the highest average since 2005-06 and the second-highest average in the last eight years. It is the fifth consecutive season and the 17th time in the last 19 years that the ECHL has averaged over 4,000 fans and the league drew over 3 million fans for the 16th year in a row and reached the 3 million mark in the fewest number of games since 2005-06.
The ECHL returns to Toledo following a two-year absence which allowed construction of the new state-of-the-art Lucas County Arena. The Walleye have sold more than 2,400 season tickets and are projecting capacity crowds when they host the Florida Everblades on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the 7,500-seat facility.
South Carolina will raise its record third Kelly Cup championship banner and its third conference championship banner on Friday when it hosts the Wheeling Nailers. The Alaska Aces will hoist their second National Conference championship banner and their fourth West Division championship banner on Friday when they host Victoria. The Stingrays set a team record for largest crowd with 10,568 on Jan. 17 while Alaska tied its regular season record for the eighth time with 6,451 on Feb. 27. The capacity for Sullivan Arena was increased during the Kelly Cup Playoffs and the Aces had back-to-back standing-room-only crowds of 6,610 for Games 6 and 7 of the Finals.
The Idaho Steelheads host the Stockton Thunder on Friday, Saturday and Sunday while the Bakersfield Condors will host the Ontario Reign on Friday and Saturday. Bakersfield has drawn over 200,000 fans each of the last five seasons while Idaho has led the league the last six seasons with 42 sellouts.
Las Vegas will host Utah and Elmira will host Cincinnati on Friday while Johnstown will open on Saturday when Cincinnati visits the historic Cambria County War Memorial.
Trenton will open its season on Friday and Saturday when the Devils host Kalamazoo while Gwinnett will host Wheeling on Saturday and Sunday.
The Ontario Reign, the City of Ontario and Citizens Business Bank Arena will host the 18th Annual ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 20, 2010 and the 13th Annual All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 19, 2010.
ECHL Coaches Mixture of Fresh Faces, Veterans
Thirteen of the 20 coaches in the ECHL return for the same team as last season while six take the reins for the first time. The 20th is Nick Vitucci who returns behind the bench in Toledo following a two-year hiatus while the Walleye built their new arena.
Cail MacLean begins his first season as head coach of South Carolina after working as an assistant coach for the Kelly Cup winner in 2008-09. MacLean finished his 11-year playing career in 2007-08 with South Carolina after three seasons with the club. He ranks in the Top 20 on the team career list in goals, assists and points and in the ECHL’s Top 20 with 224 goals over nine seasons with Jacksonville, Reading, Trenton and South Carolina.
Brent Thompson enters his first season as head coach in Alaska after four seasons as an assistant with the Aces’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, and one year as a player/assistant with Colorado in the Central Hockey League. Originally drafted by Los Angeles in the second round (39th overall) in the 1989 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Thompson played six seasons in the NHL from 1991-97 amassing 11 points (1g-10a) and 352 penalty minutes in 121 regular season games with Los Angeles, Phoenix and Winnipeg.
Jeff Pyle returns for his seventh season as head coach of Gwinnett and his 11th year in the ECHL. He has led the Gladiators to the Kelly Cup Playoffs all six seasons and has a career record of 385-256-75 to rank third all-time in both wins and games coached. Pyle was selected to three consecutive All-Star Games from 2004-06 which ties him with Davis Payne, Chris Cichocki and Glen Gulutzan for the most selections.
Derek Wilkinson in Charlotte and Marty Raymond in Bakersfield are both back for their sixth full season. Wilkinson is 194-161-34 with Charlotte which gives him more wins than any other coach in Checkers history. Wilkinson has guided Charlotte to the Kelly Cup Playoffs each of his first five seasons tying the team record for consecutive postseason appearances. Raymond led the Condors to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the fifth straight year in 2008-09 while improving his record to 186-144-47 behind the Condors bench. Bakersfield had a winning record for the fourth time in his five seasons behind the bench in 2008-09.
Greg Puhalski returns for his second full season as head coach in Wheeling while Rick Kowalsky is back for his fourth season with Trenton. In his first season in 2008-09, Puhalski helped the Nailers finish with 29 more points than in 2007-08 which was the biggest improvement in the league. The upswing also was also responsible for Puhalski’s 2009 All-Star Game selection and the Nailers securing a Kelly Cup Playoffs berth for the first time since 2006. Kowalsky presided over the second-best upswing in the standings as the Devils improved upon their 2007-08 total by 22 points to advance to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the eighth time in 10 years. For his efforts Kowalsky was presented with the John Brophy Award, given annually to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.
Mark Morrison begins his fourth season as head coach of Victoria while Matt Thomas is back for his second as head coach in Stockton. Both were selected for a second time as National Conference coaches for the 2009 ECHL All-Star Game. Morrison guided the Salmon Kings to a third-place finish in the National Conference and the Division Finals in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Victoria had the second-longest winning streak in ECHL history winning 15 games from Dec. 6, 2008 to Jan. 10, 2009. Thomas led the Thunder past regular season division winner Ontario in the Pacific Division Semifinals for the club’s first playoff series victory since 2003. He has led his teams to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in each of his five seasons and is 201-114-44 in the regular season.
Derek Laxdal begins his fifth season as head coach in Idaho. He is 169-91-28 in the regular season and 19-18 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs as the Steelheads have won 40 games, including a team record 44 wins in 2008-09, and reached the postseason each of his first four seasons. Idaho captured the Kelly Cup championship in his second season in 2006-07 after going 43-21-8 in 2005-06 to set team records for wins and points (94).
Chuck Weber returns for his fourth year as head coach in Cincinnati. He has led the Cyclones to the Kelly Cup Playoffs all three years where he is 30-17 with back-to-back trips to the conference finals. Weber is 133-67-16 in his first three seasons which ranks him fourth all-time among ECHL coaches in wins during the start of their career. In his second season in 2007-08 the Cyclones won the Kelly Cup and Brabham Cup championships making the 35 year old only the third coach in 20 years to win both the regular season and postseason titles.
Nick Bootland in Kalamazoo and Nick Vitucci in Toledo are both at the helm of teams new to the ECHL for 2009-10. Bootland is in his second year as head coach of the K-Wings, who played in the International Hockey League in 2008-09. Bootland played two seasons in the ECHL for Cincinnati from 2001-03 and had 98 points (44g-54a) and 216 penalty minutes in 114 regular season games and 18 points (10g-8a) and 21 penalty minutes in 18 Kelly Cup Playoff games. He helped the Cyclones reach the conference finals in 2003 where they lost in to eventual Kelly Cup champion Atlantic City in seven games. Vitucci played 14 seasons in the ECHL and is the league’s all-time regular season wins leader. He was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2008 and his five ECHL championships are the most in league history. He coached the Toledo Storm from 2004-07 before the team took a voluntary suspension while the Lucas County Arena was being constructed. Vitucci is 140-104-21 in the regular season and led Toledo to the Kelly Cup Playoffs three years in a row from 2004-07, the first time the team had reached the postseason three straight seasons since 1997-99. He was named ECHL Coach of the Year in 2004-05 after Toledo finished 41-26-5., begins his first season as head coach with the Walleye.
Returning for his third year as head coach in Elmira is Steve Martinson, who is 80-50-14 and has guided the team to a Kelly Cup Playoff berth in each of the Jackals first two seasons. Martinson has never missed the postseason in 14 years as a coach and he won five championships in the West Coast Hockey League and one title in the United Hockey League.
Coaches returning for their second season are Malcolm Cameron in Florida and Karl Taylor in Ontario. Cameron led the Everblades to a 49-17-5 mark and their second Brabham Cup championship as well as the team’s 11th-consecutive playoff appearance since entering the league in 1998-99. Cameron, who coached in the ECHL All-Star Game in 2007 and 2008, is 257-124-50 in six ECHL seasons. Taylor, meanwhile, pushed the Reign to a 38-29-6 record and the Pacific Division regular season title in the club’s inaugural season. Taylor was head coach of Reading for three seasons from 2005-08. The Royals were 112-82-22, advanced to the Kelly Cup Playoffs two times and had more than 100 call ups to the AHL. Taylor was selected to coach the American Conference in the 2006 ECHL All-Star Game, becoming the sixth first-year coach since 1996 to step behind the bench for the midseason event.
Jeff Flanagan starts his first season as head coach with Johnstown. He was head coach for Gardena in Italy which finished 18-11-3 and led the league with 4.80 goals per game en route to the semifinals in 2008-09. He was associate coach of Basingstoke in the English Premier League in 2004-05 and was an assistant coach for Reading in 2006-07. He played three seasons at the University of Guelph helping the Gryphons capture the CIS National Championship in 1996-97.
Kevin Colley, who is the youngest coach in the ECHL at 30 years old, begins his second season as head coach in Utah after a 28-28-16 season and an appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in 2008-09.
Larry Courville is in his first full season as head coach for the Reading Royals. He took over for Jason Nobili on Jan. 6, 2009 and led the Royals to a 15-19-3 record in their final 38 games. Courville played six seasons in the ECHL and had 96 points (36g-60a) and 264 penalty minutes in 190 regular season games for Johnstown and Reading. He was the first inductee into the Reading Eagle Wall of Honor which celebrates members of the organization who have made distinctive contributions to the success of the team.
Ryan Mougenel is in his first year as head coach of Las Vegas after working the last four years as an assistant coach. The 33 year old had 105 points (46g-59a) and 271 penalty minutes in 180 regular season games with Atlantic City, Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, and Jackson and helped Atlantic City win the Kelly Cup championship in 2003.
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