Heading into the season, the ECHL Mountain Division was billed as one of the toughest divisions in the ECHL, as well as one of the most competitive. It certainly has lived up to the billing so far this season, in both capacities.
As we approach the deadline, Colorado and Idaho appear to be the class of the pack, but can Wichita, Tulsa, Utah, and Allen make enough moves to make a deep run in the playoffs? Let’s take a gander…
Colorado Eagles (37-15-4-2, 80 pts — 1st in Mountain Division)
Home Record: 21-4-3-1
Road Record: 16-11-1-1
Last 10 Games: 6-3-0-1
Biggest Need: Stability between Colorado and San Antonio (AHL). All year long, probably for the sake of the rest of the Western Conference, we’ve seen constant shuttling between the two clubs. With San Antonio likely missing the Calder Cup playoffs, it stands to reason that players like Michael Joly, Shawn St-Amant and others will rejoin the Eagles for the playoff run. Some great additions to the roster just in time for the Eagles’ run to another possible championship.
Prediction for the Deadline: Now that the Eagles have acquired ECHL All-Star defenseman Cliff Watson & Ryan Olsen from Utah, it’s not likely we will see much additional movement from the Eagles as the deadline approaches.
Idaho Steelheads (33-19-4-2, 72 pts — 2nd in Mountain Division)
Home Record: 16-9-3-0
Road Record: 17-10-1-2
Last 10 Games: 6-4-0-0
Greatest Need: Previously, a second goaltender behind Philippe Desrosiers. Idaho’s previous number two, netminder Ryan Faragher, was loaned to the AHL’s Stockton Heat on February 14. In likely anticipation of said loan, the Steelheads picked up former Brampton Beast goalie Carmine Guerriero off waivers on February 13. Guerriero didn’t quite work out for Idaho; he was traded to Manchester on March 1 after an abysmal showing against Utah on February 19. With the acquisition of 5-0-1 rookie Tomas Sholl from Adirondack, Idaho’s greatest need seems to have been met heading into the postseason push.
Prediction for Deadline: Idaho acquired rugged forward Jack Nevins from Greenville on Tuesday, which adds some more snarl to their roster to go with Jefferson Dahl. With the goaltender situation on lock, don’t look for the Steelheads to be on the transaction sheet come Thursday evening.
Wichita Thunder (30-23-4-2, 66 pts — 3rd in Mountain Division)
Home Record: 19-11-2-1
Road Record: 11-12-2-1
Last 10 Games: 4-4-0-2
Greatest Need: The Wichita Thunder’s defense started strong at the beginning of the season, but have fallen off drastically since Christmas, especially on the road. Since that time, Wichita’s record is 12-15-2-2 and they have been outscored 115-89. More importantly, the Thunder have allowed five or more goals 13 times since Christmas, including a streak of six in seven games. While Malcolm Cameron has added offense at will, he has stubbornly neglected the seven men on the blueline, and that may end up being the Thunder’s downfall, should they make the playoffs.
Prediction for the Deadline: Wichita acquired Brayden Low on Tuesday, which will help get the offense off the mat. The team needs a defenseman or two, but I think Cameron stands pat at the deadline.
Tulsa Oilers (25-23-3-8, 61 points — 4th in Mountain)
Away Record: 12-12-2-6
Last 10 Games: 5-3-0-2
Greatest Need: Goal scoring. The Tulsa Oilers have scored just 179 goals in 59 games this year, an average of 3.03 per game. The Oilers have been getting solid play in net from rookie Devin Williams, and adding another offensive threat could push the team over the top in the race for the top four in the Mountain.
Prediction for Deadline: Tulsa has already been involved in two trades this year, sending F Mark Bennett to Reading for future considerations, and receiving G Tyler Parks from Florida for futures. The Oilers are in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since their first season in the ECHL in 2013-14, and I think they will look to add that final piece to put them over the top and bring postseason hockey back to the banks of the Arkansas River. They could opt for trying to add a defenseman to strengthen the play in front of Williams (13-8-2, 2.63 GAA .921 SV%), but with his play in net, goals against haven’t been the most significant issue. I think they will look to add another offensive threat and provide a secondary scorer to pair with Charlie Sampair (28-21–49). The ability to find another player who can cash in the clutch goal could be the piece that completes their playoff puzzle.
Utah Grizzlies (25-23-6-5, 61 pts — tied with Tulsa for 4th in Mountain)
Home Record: 11-13-2-3
Road Record: 14-10-4-2
Last 10 Games: 8-1-0-1
Greatest Need: The Grizzlies shored up two glaring needs by recently acquiring goaltender Joel Rumpel from Wichita (February 8) and defenseman Gage Ausmus from Colorado (February 15). In the month since acquiring Rumpel, Utah has lost only three times, and has closed the gap with Allen and Tulsa for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. It may be splitting hairs for the trending Grizzlies, but a forward who can close out games (and another stay-at-home defenseman) could help Utah over the hump and into the playoffs.
Prediction for Deadline: With as many close games the Grizzlies have had this season against divisional foes, getting a player to seal the deal with an insurance goal or two never looked so tempting. Don’t be surprised to see one more trade for Utah, this time, for the aforementioned close-out forward.
Allen Americans (27-24-4-2, 60 pts — 1 pt behind Tulsa/Utah)
Home Record: 15-8-4-1
Road Record: 12-16-0-1
Last 10 Record: 3-6-0-0
Greatest Need: Top six scoring forward, third line depth, more size, speed skill & toughness.
Deadline Prediction: Martinson has added four players in the last week and addressed some of his needs. Still has a future consideration from the Marcus Basara trade to Wheeling which will be a player. Could also be seeking rights to players currently on loan to AHL especially from ECHL teams that will not make the playoffs.
Rapid City Rush (20-33-3-1, 44 pts — Last in Mountain Division)
Home Record: 13-14-1-0
Road Record: 7-19-2-1
Last 10 Games: 3-5-1-1
Greatest Need: While they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, yet, the Rush are virtually playing for the 2018-19 season at this point. Their greatest need is to maintain and increase their fan base and the desire by fresh talent to want to play in the Black Hills.
Prediction for the Deadline: The remaining schedule will ultimately be a showcase for the bench boss, Coach Daniel Tetrault, to evaluate the direction he wants to take the team into his second season as head coach. Look for him to try and solidify his lines and create the perfect balance of speed, skill, toughness, and scoring ability. I would be surprised to see more than 3-5 last minute trades as the second half of the season has fared better for Rapid City than the start of their 10th Anniversary campaign so the adjustments will be minor, at best.