GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – The Adirondack Thunder are wrapping up the worst season of their five-year ECHL run. After making the postseason in each of their first four seasons, the Thunder were unlikely to complete the task in the 2019-20 season. The season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, with Adirondack in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
After the initial hype of having three former Kelly Cup victors on the roster (forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel, defenseman Gabriel Verpaelst, and goaltender Eamon McAdam), the Thunder quickly proved that talent and experience do not always equal success.
Final record: 22-28-8-5, 57 points (5th in North Division, 10th in Eastern Conference, 19th in ECHL)
Leading Scorer: Forward Matt Salhany led the team in points with 51 (26 goals, 25 assists). He was also the team leader in goals scored.
Best Netminder: McAdam was Adirondack’s go-to guy, appearing in 40 games, posting a 3.25 goals against average and a .893 save percentage. He picked up 15 of the team’s 22 victories.
High Point: After a midseason blockbuster trade, there seemed to be a bit of a morale boost for the Thunder. Gone were defenseman Verpaelst and forward Alex Tonge, but the team brought in defenseman Alex Jaeckle and forward John Edwardh. Adirondack lost two games immediately following the trade but then went on a four-game win streak, their longest of the season. During the streak, the Thunder outscored their opponents 23-6, with two shutouts.
Low Point: Adirondack went on an eleven-game losing skid in December, with six of those losses coming at the hands of the Maine Mariners. The Thunder allowed four or more goals in ten of those eleven games, and were outscored 62-40. The team was still able to come up with five standings points during that time, with three overtime losses and two in the shootout. The Thunder eventually rebounded with two straight victories, but went right back to their losing ways with a four game skid.
Highlight of Season: The reuniting of the Edwardh-Szmatula-Salhany line. During the 2018-19 season, the line of Salhany, Edwardh, and Mike Szmatula was first formed. Once it was discovered how much chemistry there was between the three, the line became a common boost for the Thunder. The trio combined for a total of 149 points last season.
During the summer, Salhany re-signed with Adirondack, but Szmatula headed to Europe (GKS Tychy in Poland) and Edwardh signed with the Florida Everblades (and was then traded to the Cincinnati Cyclones). Szmatula later re-signed with the Thunder, and Edwardh returned in January via trade. The line was reunited and had instant chemistry and success, helping the team to its longest win streak of the season. Since Edwardh’s return, the three have combined for 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 23 games.
Surprises/Disappointments: The Thunder were dealt a major blow when forward Shane Conacher announced his retirement in November. Conacher had spent the previous two seasons with Adirondack, picking up 96 points (32 goals, 64 assists) during the regular season. He missed a good chunk of last season while recovering from testicular cancer, but instantly made a huge impact upon his return on Cancer Awareness Weekend. He returned for the 2019-20 season, adding a goal and assist before being injured on opening night. He announced his retirement the following month.
If the season continued, how would it have played out?
The Thunder had numerous lengthy losing streaks during the 2019-20 season. There was the eleven game losing skid December 6-27, a four-game skid from December 31 – January 10, six games January 29 – February 14, and five February 29 – March 10 to close the season. At the time the season was suspended, Adirondack was eleven points out of fourth place with nine games remaining. It was highly unlikely they would have been able to make a comeback of that magnitude.
Focus for Offseason
The Thunder will have to rebuild for next season. They were hurting on defense this season. Of the seven defensemen on the roster at the end of the shortened season, three were rookies and two others were in their sophomore seasons. Another experienced defenseman would be invaluable to lead the younger blueliners.
This offseason will be an important one for the Adirondack Thunder. As the world deals with and tries to recover from the effects of COVID-19, the team will be trying to plan for the 2020-21 season. Adirondack will have to try to find a healthy balance between experience, skill, and team chemistry as they have in years past. After such a disappointing season, the best thing the Thunder and their fans can do is look forward to next season.
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