With the new division alignment in the ECHL for the 2015-16 season, the South Division looks to be one of the more competitive in the league. Four of the five teams finished last season with more than 80 points, three of those four with over 90 points. Some big names have left, some teams have changed names, but the south looks to be tough heading into this campaign.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 20-45-3-4 (7th in East Division, 13th in Eastern Conference)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Did not qualify
Key Addition: Garry Nunn put up some nice numbers before being traded to Ontario. Nunn returns for another season in Atlanta.
Key Losses: The biggest loss for Atlanta may have occurred during the 2015 trade deadline, as leading scorer Casey Pierro-Zabotel was shipped out.
What to Watch For: Atlanta struggled to find twine last season, finishing 27th in the league in goals scored. With 10 players returning from last season’s squad, chemistry will not be an issue, but players like Thomas Frazee and Nunn will need to shoulder the load offensively.
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 49-16-2-5 (1st in East Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Lost in East Division Finals to South Carolina in six games
Key Addition: Corey Syvret comes cross-continent after much success in Alaska to help solidify the blue line.
Key Losses: Florida had a lot of firepower last season, but Adam Brace, Mitch Wahl, and Alex Lavoie are all gone (188 combined points).
What to Watch For: Who will step up for Greg Poss and his Everblades squad? They’ve lost a lot of big names, but with his high-flying system, the point-scoring shoes that seem so large now will likely be filled. Look for Mike Aviani to continue to improve, and possibly take that next step to become one of the better forwards in this division.
GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITS
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 39-29-1-3 (5th in East Division, 9th in Eastern Conference)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Did not qualify
Key Addition: Besides the awesome new team name that sent shock waves throughout the hockey world, the Swamp Rabbits were assigned Jack Combs, who created a few storylines of his own last season. When on the ice, Combs is arguably the best forward in the league. Also, Nikita Kashirsky never quite lived up to the hype in Wichita, but a change of scenery may be exactly what he needed. The talent is definitely there. Getting Allen York to guard the cage will definitely be an upgrade as well.
Key Losses: Losing your top scorers in Anthony Luciani and Vinny Saponari isn’t easy, but adding a player like Combs eases that blow. Ryan Hegarty contributed offensively from the blue line with five power play goals (tied for second on the team), but is now gone.
What to Watch For: Brian Gratz takes over behind the bench, and while new coaches can sometimes endure their fair share of lumps along the way, Gratz knows this team and organization well after serving as an Assistant Coach last season. Greenville missed the playoffs, in large part to playing in a stacked division. Can Gratz get the Swamp Rabbits over the hump?
ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 37-25-6-4 (4th in East Division, 6th in Eastern Conference)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Lost in East Division Semifinals to Florida in six games
Key Addition: With Rob Madore now minding the net in Orlando, if the Solar Bears ever get goaltender Garret Sparks back, this could be a formidable 1-2 punch. They combined for 9 shutouts last season. Another key addition to the Solar Bears line-up is former Missouri Mavericks forward Lindsay Sparks, who was acquired on August 6 for the rights to Bryce Aneloski. Last season in Missouri, Sparks put up 57 points (22G, 35A) in 62 games. Sparks works hard on the ice each shift and fans in Orlando will quickly grow to like his style of play.
Key Losses: A blow to the Orlando roster, at least initially, will come with the loss of Denver Manderson. Last season, he was second on the Solar Bears in points with 50 (18G, 32A) in 52 games. With the loss of Jacob Cepis to retirement, offense could be difficult to come by.
What to Watch For: The Solar Bears have a new bench boss of their own this season, luring Anthony Noreen away from Youngstown in the USHL. Noreen has had success in the USHL, but will his style of game translate to the ECHL and be successful?
SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 45-20-1-6 (2nd in East Division, 4th in Eastern Conference)
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Lost in Kelly Cup Finals to Allen in seven games
Key Addition: Kyle Kraemer and David Pacan both join the Stingrays this season, and have put up good numbers in their previous stops.
Key Losses: Reigning ECHL MVP and Goalie of the Year Jeff Jakaitis is gone, and that isn’t going to be easy to replace for Spencer Carbery. Jakaitis backstopped the most potent defensive team in the league, giving up an average of 2.26 goals per game, the best in the ECHL.
What to Watch For: The Stingrays stumbled out of the gates last season, and were really average at best before their record-setting winning streak. Something clicked for Carbery’s squad and they finished one game shy of raising the Kelly Cup. With quite a few new faces, and two young goalies, can they keep the momentum from last season rolling?