WICHITA, Kan. – Out of all the divisions in the ECHL, the North has seen the greatest change this offseason, with one team moving out (Wheeling) and two more coming in. Both the Maine Mariners and Newfoundland Growlers will kick off their ECHL stints at home this weekend.
Former Wheeling Nailers assistant head coach Riley Armstrong has built a young Mariners team that possesses speed and size throughout the lineup and looks to be pretty solid in net. The Mariners have the pieces to compete for a playoff spot, with veteran defenseman Zach Tolkinen, and forwards Brady Vail and Riley Bourbonnais anchoring the squad. What will be curious to see is if the Mariners get significant help from their AHL brethren in Hartford.
It has been an offseason of change for the franchise based in southern New Hampshire. Gone is their long-time voice, Ken Cail (replaced by Parker Wheeler), as well as the architect of the organization’s success for their three-plus year run in the ECHL, Richard Seeley. Seeley’s replacement is a familiar name to those who were around during the AHL Monarch days, Doug Christansen.
The Monarchs will feature quite a few returning players this season, including Gaspar Kopitar, Colton Saucerman, Rob Hamilton, and Craig Wyszomirski. The mix of vets and a solid rookie group should put Manchester in position for a playoff berth.
The challenge for Manchester, as it has been since they stepped down to the ECHL level, will be getting players assigned from AHL Ontario. Having Seeley out there might help Manchester’s cause some, but for fans already bitter from the move, seeing constant instability on the roster is further salt in the wound.
Welcome home, Ryane Clowe. The Newfoundland native and former NHL forward will lead the Growlers into their first season of ECHL competition after spending two seasons on the New Jersey Devils’ bench as an assistant coach. The Growlers hit the ground running with a tremendous multi-year backing from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the ice, Clowe has done a solid job of recruiting. Signed is former NHL defenseman Adam Pardy, well-traveled defenseman James Melindy, netminder Michael Garteig, and forward Sam Babintsev. The Growlers are also expected to get a glut of players from the Toronto Marlies.
The Growlers may not make the playoffs this season, but they will have laid the groundwork for many years of success ahead.
Months after clinching their first-ever Kelly Cup Playoff berth, the Worcester Railers appear poised to contend for a North Division title.
The Achilles’ heel for the Railers last season was their inability to score consistently, finishing dead last in the ECHL with an average of 2.69 goals for per game. Head coach Jamie Russell hoped he fixed that problem in the offseason by bringing in oft-traveled offensive power Tyler Barnes and acquiring Nick Sorkin from the Wheeling Nailers. Returning to Worcester for a second season is Barry Almeida, who is coming off a career-best season where he put up 61 points on 66 games for the Railers.
On the backend, the Railers are led by fifth-year defenseman Mike Cornell, who is also coming off a career-best 2017-18 campaign, scoring 24 points in 42 games.
Second-year pro Mitch Gillam will likely be the opening night starter for the Railers, after putting up a stellar rookie season. The 26-year-old netminder went 23-14-0-2 last season, with a 2.15 goals against average, five shutouts and .925 save percentage. Safe to say that if he puts those numbers up again this season, he’ll be in Bridgeport before long.
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