PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Mariners haven’t slowed down their roster building for the 2020-21 ECHL season, despite the start of it being delayed until at least December 4th.
It was no surprise that the ECHL season would be delayed, given that the AHL also delayed their season to December. While Mariners fans will have to wait longer than the on-time start that had been hoped and prayed for, there is good news for Maine. As of August 13th, according to worldometer’s COVID-19 statistics, Maine has the third-fewest active cases and seventh-fewest total deaths among U. S. states, indicating that the strict guidelines set forth by the Maine government have done an incredible job of limiting cases and the spread of the virus. Of course, with Maine being a highly favorable tourist destination in summer months, the state could see a spike in cases as guidelines will inevitably be broken. The hope is that by early December, fans are in the seats at some capacity, but with how strict the economical re-opening plan for Maine has been, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some, if not all, fans had to wait longer to get back to their seats.
Though COVID-19 has delayed this ECHL season, it hasn’t stopped the Mariners from continuing to bolster their offense. The Mariners started their offseason by re-signing forwards Ted Hart, Michael McNicholas, and Dillan Fox.
On July 20th, the Mariners signed former NCAA Division III standout Andrew Romano to his first professional contract. The 25-year-old forward spent four seasons at SUNY-Geneseo, and had led NCAA Division III in scoring in both his junior and senior years. Over these two years, he’d amassed 24 goals and 84 assists for an incredible 108 points in just 56 games.
A week later, July 27th, forward Nick Master was brought back for his third season in Maine. When Master originally joined Maine in March of 2019, he had appeared in eight games and registered three goals and four assists. However, Master only appeared in six games this past season, registering one goal, before his season was ended due to a wrist injury.
At a one-per-week rate of signing players, the Mariners signed forward and Maine native Ben Freeman to his first professional contract on August third. The former captain of the NCAA Division I University of Connecticut Huskies team had seven goals and 21 assists in 33 games last season. Freeman was a hot commodity to come across this offseason – a 6-5 200-pound right-handed shot, who, amazingly, had a grand total of 0 penalty minutes last season. Freeman also had a faceoff win percentage of 56.2%, had 20 blocked shots, and should be a perfect two-way forward fit.
As of the Freeman signing, the Mariners had signed six players – all forwards.
Just a few days ago, on August 10th, defenseman Nate Kallen was brought back for his second season with Maine, despite having played just three games at the ECHL level last year. He had just finished off a four-year run with NCAA Division I Ferris State. Kallen was a stalwart at the blueline for the Bulldogs, appearing in 146 games.
Looking back at the Mariners last season, it’s no surprise that management has invested more in forwards than defensemen so far during this offseason. The team ranked 17th in goals for, and a majority of their offensive production came from players on AHL/NHL contracts. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but having more offensive firepower in case that help doesn’t come from the AHL/NHL is important, especially with so much uncertainty going into this season.
Considering the extraordinary amount of roster moves and player movement that Hartford and Maine have a tendency to go through on a yearly basis, it will be incredibly important to always have that much-needed offensive support, AHL and NHL contracts, or not.
While the signings have been primarily forwards, the Mariners haven’t lost sight of the two-way game. The forwards signed have offensive potential, but have proven themselves defensively too.
Kallen is an intriguing defensive signing, and kickstarts the defensive core for the team. The team should still receive defensive support from either Hartford (i.e. Brandon Crawley) or Laval (i.e. Ryan Culkin), but it’s hard to predict at what capacity.
Of course, with players like Freeman and Romano transitioning from the college game to the professional game (and Kallen to an extent), there are still question marks surrounding that transition.
However, with the consistency shown in all three players in their collegiate careers in terms of production and durability, the hope is that the transition from college hockey to professional hockey should be less taxing on the players.
Keep track of all the signings and movement during the 2020 ECHL offseason by visiting our ECHL Transactions page!
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