It took until the final day of the 2014-15 regular season for the Toledo Walleye to capture their third Brabham Cup championship. Can the Walleye repeat the success they had last season, in division that will feature two improved clubs and a tough Wheeling team?
The Walleye completed an ECHL-record 57-point improvement in the standings last season, which earned head coach Derek Lalonde ECHL Coach of the Year honors. What will the Walleye do for an encore?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 50-15-5-2 (107 pts) — Won North Division and Brabham Cup titles
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Def Wheeling Nailers 4-3 in North Division Semifinals
Def Fort Wayne Komets 4-3 in North Division Finals
Loss to South Carolina 4-3 in Eastern Conference Finals
Key Addition: Rejoining the fish this season is high-scoring forward Evan Rankin, who spent the last three seasons with three different teams in the American Hockey League, collecting 105 points (53G, 52A) in 170 games. Rankin is one of two Walleye players to notch 100 career points with the franchise. His best season with the Walleye came in 2009-10, where he compiled 57 points (32G, 25A) in 65 games and set the team’s single-season record for goals — a mark that stood until Kyle Bonis broke it with 36 goals last season.
Key Losses: The Walleye will move forward without some of the scoring punch that made them so potent last season. Gone are the reigning ECHL Rookie of the Year Tyler Barnes, who will start the season with the Missouri Mavericks, and Troy Schwab, who retired to take an assistant coaching position with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Barnes averaged exactly a point-per-game in 92 regular-season and playoff games last season (40G, 52A). Schwab had 82 points (27G, 55A) in 91 regular-season and playoff games last season.
What to Watch For: Despite the loss of some offensive punch for the Walleye, the constant remains in net with goaltender Jeff Lerg. Last season, Lerg went 32-9-3 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average. If Lerg can duplicate those numbers this season, he will be one of the favorites for ECHL Goalie of the Year honors. Also, can Shane Berschbach build on his impressive rookie season that seen him finish fourth in rookie scoring with 63 points (15G, 48A).
The Beast have had an off-season filled with splashy name signings. Will the signings and head coach Colin Chaulk lead the Beast to their first Kelly Cup Playoff berth?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 23-46-3-0 (49 points — 7th in Central Division)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Did Not Qualify
Key Additions: The Brampton Beast underwent a stark change in the offseason, beginning with the hire of Colin Chaulk as head coach on May 5. Chaulk then went out and recruited a who’s who in the scoring department; former ECHL scoring champion Brandon Marino, Scotty Howes, Yannick Tifu and Chris Auger.
Key Losses: For a team that did a complete change during the offseason, how do you determine a key loss? It was tough, but perhaps a key loss for this team will be Jason Pitton, who had been with the team for the last two seasons. Last season, he put up 45 points (22G, 23A) in 70 games.
What to Watch For: The question for fans in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is how will all of this offense come together? We have seen it in the past where teams were loaded offensively and actually had trouble scoring in an effort to make sure everyone got a chance. Also, will the defense do their part and keep the opposition scoring down? Last season, the Beast finished a combined -521.
With returning scorers Riley Brace, Derek Army and Zach Torquato, is this finally the year the Nailers win their first division title since the Doug Sauter era in 1994-95?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 37-33-1-1 (76 points — 4th in North Division)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Loss to Toledo Walleye 4-3 in North Division Semifinals
Key Additions: Christophe Lalancette is a notable name among the forwards, as he attended training camp with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In 237 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Lalancette scored 190 points (61G, 129A). He could prove to be a decent addition to the Nailers offense.
Key Losses: Veteran defenseman Mike Ratchuk could be a key loss for the Nailers. Ratchuk plays the game with a snarl that is needed on the back end and occasionally chips in offensively on the power play.
What to Watch For: Last season, the Nailers allowed an average of 2.94 goals per game, while only scoring 2.92. Can the defense and goaltending tighten up enough to have some of those one-goal games swing their way? It could mean the difference between a team that can go deep in the playoffs and a team that’s golfing after the regular-season.
Nick Bootland led the Wings to their second straight playoff berth last season. Do the Wings have the pieces in place to make a deep playoff run this Spring?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 36-30-3-3 (78 points — 3rd in North Division)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Loss to Fort Wayne Komets 4-1 in North Division Semifinals
Key Additions: Tyler Shattock could be a real nice pickup for the Wings. Last season with the Stockton Thunder, Shattock put up 63 points (23G, 40A) in 65 games. He is also a forward that does not mind going into the dirty areas, as represented by his 101 penalty minutes last season.
Key Losses: Gone from Kalamazoo are two players who combined for 99 points last season: Matt Caria and Gergo Nagy. The duo were the leading scorers for the team last season.
What to Watch For: How will Nick Bootland compensate for the losses of Caria and Nagy? Also, will there be another goalie who steps up and gives Joel Martin a challenge. Martin’s numbers last year were pedestrian as far as ECHL goalies go, 30-20-3-2 with a 2.94 goals against average.