WICHITA, Kan. – The second half of the 2018-19 ECHL season gets underway tonight with a ten-game slate. For the next 72 days, we’ll see teams jockey for playoff position and the intensity slowly ratchet up as we find out who the 16 teams are that will play for the Kelly Cup beginning in mid-April. In other words, it’s about to get good.

Let’s start first with the playoff field breakdown:

The North Division has been a mixmaster this season, with every team over .500 and 17 points separate first from seventh, with just a four-point spread between third and seventh. Aside from Newfoundland, who appears to be a lock for the playoffs even with the coaching change, every spot is up for grabs and the North will be extremely entertaining down the stretch.

Down in the South Division, it appears that the four playoff teams are locked in. The only exception would be Norfolk, who have been hit by injuries and call-ups. If the Admirals can get healthy and the call-ups are limited, they could put a serious dent in their seven-point deficit on fourth and put a scare into the top four.

In the Central Division, the Cincinnati Cyclones continue to be the class of the group, leading second place Toledo by seven points. Below the Walleye, things get interesting, with third through sixth separated by seven points. The Komets will be without Justin Hodgman for at least the next two weeks, Indy has been consistently inconsistent, Wheeling has been improving after their horrible start to the season, while the Kalamazoo Wings have issues on defense and in net. Like the North, the bottom half of the Central Division will be fun to watch the second half of the season.

The Mountain Division continues to be a good ol’ Jim Ross slobberknocker, with four of the five most-penalized teams in the ECHL residing in this division. With Idaho, Tulsa, and Utah appearing to be locks for the playoffs, the real race resides for fourth. Kansas City and Wichita have been banged up and have had spurts of inconsistent play in the first half of the season. And don’t look now, but the Allen Americans appear to be jumping back into the mix and remain a longshot to make the playoffs, but, the Americans have 20 home games and three away games between next Friday and the end of the regular-season. Allen has been a very strong team at home in the past and will need to win most or all of those home games to earn a berth. If the Americans can pull this off, this will be one of the biggest storylines in league history.

ECHL Awards at Mid-Season

We polled several of our ECHL writers to get their thoughts on who should win the major season-ending league awards. Here is who we had at the half-way point:

Rookie of the Year, Chris Collins – Kalamazoo: The Wings forward entered the break with a three-point cushion on Wichita’s Steven Iacobellis in the rookie scoring lead. More to the point, Collins is second overall in league scoring, just one point behind Toledo’s TJ Hensick. Entering play on Friday night, Collins is on a ten-game point streak during which time he’s accumulated 21 points (10G, 11A).

Most Outstanding Defenseman, Kevin Spinozzi – Wheeling: Our writers were tied between Spinozzi and Wichita’s Keoni Texeira, but I decided to break the tie with Spinozzi because of two stats which stood out; +5 rating (Texeira is a -3) and all but one of his goals have had some influence on the game – whether it’s a game-winning goal, insurance marker or the game’s first goal. To be a complete defenseman, you need to impact the game in every facet and at present, Spinozzi checks all those boxes.

Most Outstanding Goaltender, Tomas Sholl – Idaho: Sholl is having an impressive rookie campaign in net for the Steelheads. The ECHL All-Star has posted a 15-5-0-0, 2.07 goals against average, a .933 sv% and has two shutouts entering play on Friday. Sholl has proven to be the pillar head coach Neil Graham can rely on when the playoffs start.

Most Valuable Player, Joe Cox – Florida: Sometimes, being the most valuable player in your league doesn’t mean you have to score the most points, and that’s the case here with Cox. The third-year forward has backed it up his impressive 2017-18 campaign by posting 42 points (17G, 25A) in 41 games. More impressive than his offensive numbers is his plus/minus rating, +33, which is tops in the league. Like with Spinozzi, the MVP winner in our view needs to influence every aspect of the game, and it’s clear that Cox does just that.

Coach of the Year, Ryane Clowe/John Snowden – Newfoundland: It’s been a Cinderella start to the franchise for the Newfoundland Growlers and it’s a shame that lingering concussion symptoms have forced Clowe to step away from the bench. But in his stead, John Snowden takes over a club that’s poised to make a deep playoff run, thanks to the combination of the existing depth on the roster (four veterans and at least 10 rookies on there) and what depth may come from Toronto if the Marlies suffer a short stint in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

If the first half of the season is any kind of indication of what the second half of the season will be…it’s probably time for us to buckle up and settle in. This will be fun.