WICHITA, Kan. – The ECHL’s Central Division saw some minor shifting of teams during the offseason, with Kansas City going to the Mountain Division and Wheeling coming in. Even with the movement, the Central may be one of the most balanced divisions on paper heading into the season.
By now, you’ve already seen our breakdowns for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Indy Fuel, Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers. Here are our breakdowns for the remaining teams in the ECHL’s Central Division:
It was a tough summer for the Komets and their fanbase, and it all started with the loss in overtime of game 7 of the West Finals in early June. Soon after, league MVP Shawn Szydlowski, Mason Baptista, and several others from that team went overseas, leaving head coach Gary Graham to begin a rebuild while maintaining the winning heritage the Komets are known for.
Graham and Komets General Manager David Franke appear to have executed the first leg of the high-wire act flawlessly. Over the summer, the K’s secured a new affiliation with the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Wolves, brought back some fan favorites in Cody Sol and Taylor Crunk, and some new blood with former AHL forward Garret Ross and former Eagles’ netminder Lukas Hafner.
The second act is to make it all work on the ice. With the talent Graham assembled, the Komets appear poised to contend for at least a division title.
For just the second time in the Nick Bootland era, the Kalamazoo Wings missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs last spring, falling to the Indy Fuel on the final day of the regular season.
The untimely end to the season may have been what the doctored ordered for the Wings. In the offseason, Bootland brought in high-scoring forward Reid Gardner from Wheeling, acquired Ryan Penny from Reading, added towering defenseman Ben Betker, plus added Jimmy Lodge and Tyler Ganly, both of whom have extensive AHL experience.
The biggest hole to fill will be in net, where stalwart netminder Joel Martin hung up the pads after 14 seasons. Martin is now behind the bench with Bootland as an assistant coach. If the Wings can find a solid replacement for Martin, either through the affiliation with Utica/Vancouver or through the free-agency market, they should be back to contending for a playoff spot this season.
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