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WICHITA, KS – Welcome to the weekend! In just a few short hours, another action-packed weekend of ECHL hockey will get going and its safe to say that every game from here to the end of the season will have some implication on the playoff races.

At the start of play Friday, 10 of the 13 Eastern Conference teams were in serious consideration for playoff spots (within 10 points of a playoff position,) while 12 of the 14 Western Conference teams were contending for playoff positions.

There are lots of big games to be played this weekend, so let’s take a look at five of them, break down the matchups and give you the storylines for each contest!

1. Fort Wayne Komets @ Kalamazoo Wings – Wings Event Center – 7 pm ET

Right on cue, it seemed as if the Kalamazoo Wings kicked their season into high gear after the Christmas break and it reflects in the standings, with the Wings going 7-3-1 this month, including an 8-3 thrashing of the Komets when these teams last met on January 3. Conversely, the Komets have won six straight games and have vaulted to the top of the Central Division, with one more win than the Toledo Walleye.

In the season series, which Kalamazoo leads 2-0-0, the Wings have allowed three goals per game and are led offensively by three players; Justin TaylorAaron Irving, and Josh Pitt, who have combined for seven of the 14 goals scored so far. When the Wings’ offense is humming along, they are getting pucks to the net and sending their big-bodied forwards in to cash in on the rebounds. In fact, the Wings are 15-5-2 when outshooting their opponent so far this season.

For Fort Wayne, they are led offensively by Artur TyanulinGarrett Thompson, and Gabriel Desjardins, who have combined to score four of the six Komet goals in the series. Tonight’s contest could be a bounce-back opportunity for Michael Houser, who has a 7.52 goals against average and a .826 save percentage in two appearances against the Wings this year.

Surprisingly, this will be the final matchup between these nearby long-time rivals until mid-March.

2. Manchester Monarchs @ Wheeling Nailers – WesBanco Arena – 7:05 pm ET Saturday, 3:05 pm ET Sunday

The two leaders of the ECHL’s North Division will clash at WesBanco Arena this weekend in a pair of games that could have significant implications later in the season. So far in the season series, the home team has won each game.

The Nailers have been red-hot at home, having won six straight at “the Bank” and one of the league’s best home records at 14-6-1-0. Wheeling features a high-powered offense that has scored four or more goals in eight of their last eleven contests and a defense that has held the opposition to three or fewer goals for eight straight games (Nailers goaltending has allowed an average of 2.72 goals/game this month).

Manchester, meanwhile, has scuffled of late, going 4-4-2 in their last ten games. The good news is that they have their stud netminder Charles Williams back with the team after a brief stint with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League. The Monarchs seemed to bust out of their scoring slump — during which time they scored 11 goals in seven games — with a ten-goal performance Sunday against the Jacksonville Icemen. Let’s see if the Monarchs can keep the offensive vibes rolling against a tough Nailers team at home.

3. Wichita Thunder @ Allen Americans – Allen Event Center – 7:05 pm CT Friday & Saturday

When these teams last met…this happened…

When the teams reunite tonight, I’m sure Allen fans will be in their seats at the start of the pregame skate, given what happened last time.

Outside of the shenanigans, this series has been extremely entertaining to watch. Wichita and Allen have split the series so far, with the Thunder winning the last two games. Since the four-game set in late December, though, the teams have gone in opposite directions; Wichita has treaded slightly above .500, while Allen has gone 2-8 in their last ten games and have dropped five-in-a-row.

Both sides will have some added firepower in the lineup for this pair of games. Wichita will have Kyle Platzer, who was the catalyst for the Thunder offense for the first six weeks of the season; while the Americans will have Vincent Arseneau back in the lineup. Before his call-up to AHL Utica, Arseneau had 17 points (11G, 6A) in 19 games for the Americans, and added an element of physicality to their forecheck.

Getting on the board first is key for both teams. When Wichita scores first, they are 16-6-0; while Allen is 15-4-1 when scoring first.

In the immortal words of former wide receiver Terrell Owens…

4. Idaho Steelheads @ Colorado Eagles – Budweiser Event Center – 7:05 pm MT Friday & Saturday

The Steelheads and Eagles will play eight of their next 11 contests against each other, including six straight meetings in a ten-day stretch from February 7-17. In a hard-fought contest Wednesday night, it was a Michael Joly goal — his 30th of the season — that gave the Eagles a 5-4 win. Joly’s game-winner snapped a brief two-game losing skid, and it leveled the season-series with Idaho at 2-2.

Both offenses have been on display in this season series, with the teams combining for 36 goals through four games (Colorado – 16, Idaho – 20), and I would expect that to continue in the two remaining games the teams have against each other this weekend.

Two stats that stand out to me when looking at this matchup, the first is that the Steelheads have outscored their opponents 50-35 in the second period, the other is that Colorado is 9-0-4 in games decided in overtime/shootouts this season. To me, this says that the Steelheads get better as the game goes along, but in a “skills competition,” Colorado has the better talent. That will be something to watch between these two teams as we move forward.

5. Orlando Solar Bears @ Atlanta Gladiators – Infinite Energy Arena – 2:05 pm ET Sunday

The final game to watch this weekend is in the South Division, where the Orlando Solar Bears and Atlanta Gladiators are locked in a tight battle for playoff positioning. At the start of play Friday, Atlanta held a three-point lead over Orlando in the race for third in the division.

So far this season, Atlanta holds a 4-0-0 lead over Orlando in the season series, with just one of the games being decided by one goal or less. The two teams will play twice in the next five days, before going their separate ways until March 7.

Here’s the league schedule for this weekend in its entirety:

FRIDAY: 
Fort Wayne @ Kalamazoo 7 pm ET
Florida @ Adirondack 7 pm ET
Reading @ Wheeling 7:05 pm ET
Quad City @ Worcester 7:05 pm ET
Orlando @ South Carolina 7:05 pm ET
Toledo @ Brampton 7:15 pm ET
Greenville @ Jacksonville 7:30 pm ET
Indy @ Cincinnati 7:35 pm ET
Norfolk @ Atlanta 7:35 pm ET
Wichita @ Allen 7:05 pm CT  LIVE ON THE SIN BIN APP
Rapid City @ Kansas City 7:05 pm CT
Tulsa @ Utah 7:05 pm MT/8:05 pm CT
Idaho @ Colorado 7:05 pm MT/8:05 pm CT

SATURDAY:
Indy @ Kalamazoo 7 pm ET
Florida @ Adirondack 7 pm ET
Manchester @ Wheeling 7:05 pm ET
Quad City @ Worcester 7:05 pm ET
Orlando @ South Carolina 7:05 pm ET
Norfolk @ Atlanta 7:05 pm ET
Brampton @ Toledo 7:15 pm ET
Greenville @ Jacksonville 7:30 pm ET
Fort Wayne @ Cincinnati 7:35 pm ET
Wichita @ Allen 7:05 pm CT  LIVE ON THE SIN BIN APP
Rapid City @ Kansas City 7:05 pm CT
Tulsa @ Utah 7:05 pm MT/8:05 pm CT
Idaho @ Colorado 7:05 pm MT/8:05 pm CT

SUNDAY:
Reading @ Brampton 2:00 pm ET
Orlando @ Atlanta 2:05 pm ET
Greenville @ Jacksonville 3:00 pm ET
Indy @ Kalamazoo 3:00 pm ET
Manchester @ Wheeling 3:05 pm ET
Florida @ Worcester 3:05 pm ET
Norfolk @ South Carolina 3:05 pm ET
Cincinnati @ Toledo 5:15 pm ET

Team Sin Bin will be at the rinks in full force, so be looking for the latest game recaps, as well as photo galleries from our fine team of writers and photographers!

Enjoy your weekend of hockey!

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