WICHITA, Kan. – Welcome to Monday Headlines, where we look back at the previous weekend of ECHL action and give you some headlines from across the league.
After a nearly 275-day layoff, the ECHL’s 33rd season kicked off last Friday night with 10 teams in action. Before we get into the takeaways, we have to pass along kudos to the ECHL, their teams and personnel, the Professional Hockey Players Association, arenas, and others who helped the league get to the point of dropping the puck on Friday night. Behind the scenes, the goalposts have been in perpetual motion and the situation has required a lot of nimbleness. That they have been able to get the season started, shows a great level of cooperation and sacrifice by all parties. Hopefully, this level of cooperation is something to build off of for years to come.
Now, the headlines:
As I noted in my “Burning Questions” article last week, attendance figures are likely to be reduced across the ECHL for much of the coming season. This weekend saw the league bring in a total of 27,333 fans, with 6,786 fans (24.8 percent of total fans) coming from Rapid City (3,570 Friday night, 3,216 Saturday night).
I decided to check the attendance figures against the attendance caps furnished by the teams. Here is the breakdown:
|Team||Attendance Cap||Attendance Friday Night||Percent Capacity Fri.||Attendance Saturday Night||Percent Capacity Sat.|
|Greenville Swamp Rabbits||3,925||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Kansas City Mavericks||2,169||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Orlando Solar Bears||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|South Carolina Stingrays||2,700||2,700||100%||N/A||N/A|
The long and short of this is that even though the available seating capacities are smaller, the ticket departments across the league did a great job of retaining season-ticket holders from last season and selling single-game tickets, to ensure the available space was at least half-full. While teams will not make a profit this season, seeing available capacities being more than half-full is a good sign for when more of us get vaccinated during the late spring and early summer timeframe, it’s a sign more of us could be coming back to arenas with greater seating capacities.
We’ll keep tabs on this and follow the attendance trends as the season continues.
The On-Ice Product:
Regardless of whether you watched in-arena or on FloSports, fans were treated to some excellent hockey this past weekend. Friday night, three of the five games went into overtime or shootout, and four of the five games were decided by one goal. Saturday night, every goal was decided by two goals or fewer.
One of the areas where sloppiness can occur, special teams, was surprisingly clean. Just 11 power-play goals were scored on 88 times shorthanded, for a 12.5% league-wide power-play success rate. Kansas City had the best power play, scoring once in four chances (25% success rate), while the Florida Everblades, Wheeling Nailers, Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder, and Allen Americans all held their opponent scoreless on the man-advantage. Rapid City scored twice shorthanded.
While I expected Florida and South Carolina to take care of business (and they did), the Allen Americans and Greenville Swamp Rabbits, who each have eight NHL/AHL contracts on their roster, stumbled out of the gate. While there’s nothing to worry about in Allen or Greenville, yet, it did raise a few eyebrows. I would fully expect coaches Steve Martinson and Andrew Lord to work on the deficiencies they saw in the stats and game tape, ahead of next weekend’s pair of games.
The team that impressed me the most this weekend was the Tulsa Oilers. Despite having just six players back from a season ago and 12 rookies on the opening night roster, they forced Wichita to a shootout and took the victory over Allen on Saturday night.
The Sin Bin’s Player of the Week:
Diego Cuglietta (Utah): The first-year Grizzlies forward made an immediate impact last weekend, with four points (1G, 3A) in two games, including a power-play game-winning goal Saturday night in Rapid City. Cuglietta’s four points lead the ECHL, while his three assists are tied for second-most.
The Sin Bin’s Goalie of the Week:
Mitch Gillam (Wichita): The netminder, in his second year in Wichita, was the team’s backbone when called upon this past weekend. Picking up where he left off last season, Gillam stopped 39 of 41 Tulsa shots and all three Oilers’ chances in the shootout to give Wichita their first season-opening win in more than two years. Through one weekend of play, Gillam is second in save percentage (.951), third in minutes played (67), and third in saves (39).
They Said It:
I’ve been to a lot of hockey games in my ten years as a reporter and before that as a fan. Normally, I’m not one to besmirch how to drive fan interaction, but one of the worst ways to do it at a hockey game (or any sporting event, really) is the kiss cam. Outside of the couple in their 70s enjoying the game and giving each other a smooch, the kiss cam is awkward, invasive, and adds very little to the overall concept of enjoying a game.
But especially in a pandemic, when the source of what’s killing us is passed virally and through close contact, the kiss cam concept seems out of touch and not a good idea. But, it still happened at an arena Friday night, and it was enough that The Athletic’s Sara Civian took notice:
I’m watching the ECHL and there’s a KISS CAM still like we’re in a pandemic we don’t need to kiss at the minor league hockey game
— Sara Civ (@SaraCivian) December 12, 2020
Congrats to the Rapid City Rush for pulling off that feat.
I had hoped the “kiss cam” would have been one of the things that went away in this COVID-world, but like a cockroach after a nuclear winter, it endures.
Matthew Harding is the Editor-in-Chief for TheSinBin.net and covers the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinThunder.