MOLINE, Ill – The countdown to the season opener for the Quad City Storm is ticking on and on, as less than four weeks remain before October 20th. Almost 20 players have been signed by the Storm already, with likely more on the way after ECHL camps begin releasing players. Looking at the roster as of now, a few names stand out as most likely to be the first on the ice in Quad City Storm history.
Between the pipes, Eric Levine is probable as the starting goaltender on October 20th. The 29-year-old goalie has 58 ECHL games under his belt, spending the season before last with the Indy Fuel. He was signed to an AHL deal with the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of Indy, during that season. Between playing with such teams as the Utah Grizzlies, Colorado Eagles, and Fuel in the ECHL, he also has seen action with the Pensacola Ice Flyers, Louisiana IceGators, and most recently the Peoria Rivermen of the SPHL. After starting his professional career in Peoria in 2013-14, he returned last season following bouncing around from team to team. His season was cut short, however, by a meniscus tear in one knee during a game in January. Levine is a familiar face to local fans, as during the Central Hockey League days he received a call-up from Peoria to serve as a Quad City Mallard back-up.
Defenseman Don Olivieri split last season between the ECHL and SPHL, playing 28 games between the Evansville Thunderbolts and the Mississippi RiverKings. He saw ECHL action with the Norfolk Admirals and Rapid City Rush, scoring three times and adding six assists with the former in 21 games. With the latter, however, in his six games, he was held off the point sheet. Coach Dave Pszenyczny calls him a “strong offensive defenseman who is not afraid to throw the body.” Having a defenseman on the ice for the opening shift who is solid on the blueline, but also more than capable of scoring, would help to start the game off right for the Storm.
Defenseman Ludlow Harris is also an offensive blueliner, and a physical presence, according to Pszenyczny in his signing announcement. While having two good scoring defenders on the ice would be a credible threat, it actually makes more sense to spread the scoring prowess over the pairings. Troy Henley will probably be in a pairing with Olivieri. As a rookie with only six professional games under his belt from last season, he would benefit from being paired with someone with experience.
The first forward on the ice for the Storm will be Vladimir Nikiforov; I’ll speculate. A veteran of 10 years, the winger has played with teams spanning three continents (Europe, Asia, and North America) and in almost as many leagues as professional years. He brings lots of experience to the team, and is a speedy forward with good puck handling skills. Nikiforov also has local ties and is sure to be a fan favorite, just as he was in his two prior stints with a Quad City hockey team – he played for the Mallards in both the CHL and ECHL days. As the Storm bridge the gap between them and the previous tenant of the TaxSlayer Center’s ice, a familiar face will help ease the culture shock of transferring from one team to the next.
Bryan Arneson, a second-year player and a forward, is also likely to be in the starting line up come October 20. With 16 goals and 11 assists in 40 games for the Mississippi RiverKings last season, as well as a single goal from his three-game stint with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, he’s proven himself to be a capable scorer. He’s also known for his hard hits, according to Pszenyczny, which is only a boon when a player has a linemate, Nikiforov, who stands at 5’6”.
Forward Joe McKeown will start his rookie season with the Storm, having played 15 games for the Rivermen this past spring after leaving the collegiate ranks. Though his stats show he isn’t a goal-scorer, Pszenyczny says he’s a play-maker when he has the puck. Having played with him last season, Pszenyczny has seen up close McKeown’s skills, which include making space for his linemates.
The clock is ticking until opening night with training camp getting closer as well. As this is before training camp has begun, these predictions are all based purely on statistics and hockey sense. I’m sure after watching a few training camp sessions and the preseason game, these opinions might be updated a bit. There’s also the trickle-down effect from players being released from higher leagues’ camps which will affect the opening night roster.
The only way to know for sure who’ll be making history as the first lineup in Quad City Storm is to be there or follow along on Twitter with @SinBinStorm.