The ECHL West maybe one of the most competitive divisions in the ECHL this season, and features the once-heated Eagles/Rush rivalry.
The Steelheads are beginning a new era of hockey as Neil Graham succeeds Brad Ralph, who left for the Western Hockey League. How will Graham do in his first full season behind the bench?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 48-18-2-4 (102 points) — Won Pacific Division
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Results: Loss to Utah Grizzlies 4-2 in Pacific Division Semifinals
Key Addition: One of the new faces this season in Idaho is a player who has played there in the past. Andrew Carroll rejoins the team after being gone for three seasons. In the 2012-13 season with Idaho, Carroll had 31 points (12G, 19A) in 36 games. Another new addition to the squad is former Wheeling Nailers goalie Eric Hartzell. Last season Hartzell went 17-14-1-0 with a 2.75 goals against average.
Key Losses: The Steelheads will move forward without the services of Alex Belzile, who was traded to Fort Wayne for defenseman James Martin on September 1, and Wade Macleod, who has signed with the Starbulls Rosenheim in DEL2. The duo led the Steelheads in scoring last season. Belzile had 69 points (28G, 41A) in 63 games and was second on the squad in scoring only to Wade Macleod who had 80 points.
What to Watch For: With the addition of Eric Hartzell in net with goaltenders Chris Rawlings and Phillippe Desrosiers, who will take the mantle and be the number 1 goalie in Idaho and will Neil Graham go with three goalies? Also, who will fill in in the 149-point offensive void up front? It would appear that scoring maybe tough to come by, atleast early on in Boise.
The Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot in the last week of the regular season last year, then went on to upset Idaho in six games. Will the Grizzlies take another step forward and contend for a conference championship?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 37-27-5-3 (82 points) — 4th in Pacific Division
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Def to Idaho Steelheads 4-2 in Pacific Division Semifinals
Loss to Ontario Reign 4-1 in Pacific Division Finals
Key Additions: Ryan Walters signed with the Utah Grizzlies after playing last season with the Alaska Aces. In 46 games with the Aces, Walters collected 43 points (20G, 23A). Josh MacDonald signs with the Grizzlies after two solid seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. In 107 games, MacDonald collected 86 points. Both look to add scoring depth to the Grizzlies line-up this season.
Key Losses: The Grizzlies will be missing some offense punch this season, provided by Michael Pelech, who is signed with the Norfolk Admirals. In 119 regular season games, Pelech put up 103 points (38G, 65A.) Also gone is goaltender Igor Bobkov, who is playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. Bobkov went 19-12-2 last season with a 2.58 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
What to Watch For: Eric Levine figures to be the opening night starter for the Grizzlies in net. Last season, he led Utah goaltenders with a .922 regular-season save percentage, plus a 1.92 goals against average and .923 save percentage in playoffs. Will the duo of Levine and Bryan Hogan be enough to keep the merry-go-round of goaltenders that happened in Utah last season, from happening this season?
For the first time in the franchise’s history, the Aces were not apart of the Kelly Cup playoff field last season. What will pieces will Rob Murray have to help the Aces make the playoffs this season?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 35-30-3-4 (77 points) — 5th in Pacific Division
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Did Not Qualify
Key Additions: Perhaps the biggest addition for the Aces this offseason came right before training camp opened when the Aces acquired Joe Perry from Quad City for Olivier Archambault. With the Mallards last season, Perry scored 26 goals and added 17 assists for 43 points in 54 games. In 7 playoff games, he scored 1 goal and assisted on 2 others and was a plus 3.
Key Losses: Center Brendan Connolly finished in a three-way tie for third in league scoring last season with 77 points (31G, 46A) for the Aces.
What to Watch For: The Aces will go this season without a formal affiliation. Scoring appears to be an issue with the loss of their top three scorers last season (Connolly, Francis, Wolfe.) Scoring depth will be an issue with the Aces, but they should have a decent goaltending combination with Troy Redmann and Steven Summerhays.
RAPID CITY RUSH
For the first time in the franchise’s history, the Rapid City Rush entered an affiliation during the offseason. How will their relationship with the Springfield Falcons and Arizona Coyotes help them this season?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 37-28-2-5 (81 points) — 2nd in Central Division
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Def Quad City Mallards 4-3 in Central Division Semifinals
Loss to Allen Americans 4-2 in Central Division Finals
Key Additions: The Rush’s biggest signing of the offseason was Jimmy Bonneau. In speaking with those in the Rush organization, they say Bonneau has a great pedigree of leading his team and doing anything for his teammates. Bonneau will certainly get a letter this season, and could be a great asset to potential captain Winston Day Chief.
Key Losses: Gone is leading scorer from last season, Jesse Schultz. He was tied for third in league scoring last season with 77 points (34G, 43A) and served part of the season as team captain. Also gone is Dylan Clarke, who signed with the Indy Fuel in the offseason. Clarke had 45 points (16G, 29A) and five game-winning goals.
What to Watch For: If he can go a full season without injury, Winston Day Chief has the potential to fill the gap in point production left behind by Jesse Schultz. The defense could be one of the strengths of the Rush this season. They feature speed, size and playmaking ability.
After being affiliated since joining the ECHL, this will be the first season the Eagles will not have an AHL or NHL affiliation. How will it affect the Eagles this season?
2014-15 Regular Season Record: 41-23-4-4 (90 points) — 3rd in Pacific Division
2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs Result: Loss to Ontario Reign 4-3 in Pacific Division Semifinal
Key Additions: One of the key offseason signings by the Eagles came in the form of former Utah Grizzlies captain Channing Boe, a puck-moving defenseman with size. Last season in Utah, Boe had 7 points in 33 games, but was only a -1. He should add some physicality to the Eagles blueline, if he can stay healthy this season.
Key Losses: Brock Nixon could be a big loss for the Eagles offensively this season. In 69 games last season, Nixon put up 66 points (30G, 36A). His fire power will be a big hole to fill this season.
What to Watch For: The Eagles have some questions in net as Clarke Saunders moved on after the season. Tyler Bunz, Jacob DeSerrers and Kris Lazaruk are the three vying for two spots. Which one of the three will step up and shoulder the load this season.
The Sin Bin’s Les Borsheim also previews the Colorado Eagles, you can read that here: http://thesinbin.net/2015-16-colorado-eagles-season-preview