ORLANDO, FL – The holiday season is a time for reflecting and dreaming. This year, The Sin Bin wants to help the sometimes battered and bruised squads get into the Christmas spirit, and we are doing so by putting together special wish lists for Santa. If that North Pole miracle-worker can bring at least some of these treats in his sleigh, it will make the New Year bright. We started with the South Division, and this installment takes us to the Central Division. Stay tuned for the North and Mountain Divisions which will soon follow.
A Goalie Gift: The Komets have ramped the offense, but many fans are nervous about the netminder situation. The team would love to see Pat Nagle healthy and back in goal. He received a high ankle sprain on Oct. 28, and the earliest he would return would be January. But this type of injury requires time, and the team will not want him to return prematurely and risk a reinjury. Eric Hartzell is doing his best Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde impression from night to night. As the team’s front-line starter, Hartzell has seemed to struggle. He is 7-7-2, with a 3.20 goals against average, a .896 save percentage, has allowed 14 goals this month and was pulled in one start. Head coach Gary Graham may have found a diamond in the rough with Garrett Bartus, who is 5-0-1 with a 2.37 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. If nothing else, this will give Graham something to think about once Nagle comes back from injury.
In addition to settling the goalie situation, the Komets also need to quit getting some of those costly penalties (like too many men on the ice) created by a lack of focus.
A Better Season Starting in 2017: While the ECHL’s second newest expansion franchise the Orlando Solar Bears are embarking on their most successful start in franchise history, the league’s newest, the Indy Fuel, is having its worst. With only 18 overall points, the team is currently ranked dead last in their division, and third to last in the entire league. The team has lost 16 games and has only won 8. Obviously, both the team and its fans would like to see the team play better, but with the forces of Toledo, Tulsa, Fort Wayne, and others, getting back up in their standings is easier said than done. The team’s holiday wish this year is modest. They would like to bury its double-digit losing streak and start to set its sights on splitting series instead of getting swept.
Stoking up the Home Fires: The Kalamazoo Wings would love to bring its fans in from out of the cold and give them something to warm up to in the Wings Event Center. The team’s average attendance numbers have climbed over 2000, which is an improvement over last year, but the team remains at the bottom of the league in that category. The current 4-5-0-1 record in their last 10 games is not giving the fans enough to cheer about, and so the team would like to head into 2017 with more home games going into the W column. From the outside looking in, it also seems like the team could use some stabilization with its trades: The team created news earlier this year when it acquired Adam Brace from Orlando and Blake Kessel from Atlanta, but neither player suited up for the K-Wings.
Putting the “Power” back in the Power Play: The Quad City Mallards have been just OK this season. Ranked fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, the Mallards are right smack in the middle of things, but they aspire for more. If there is one thing that is killing the team, it would be their mediocre power play. The team’s power play is ranked 16th in the league, and while this is not terrible, it is not terrific either. With teams like Toledo and Tulsa in their division, the Mallards need to step up their game if they want to succeed. Having players like Sam Warning or Justin Kovacs return to beginning-of-the-season form might help down the road when the playoff race is tighter. Mallards’ fans wish that their team channels their inner Minnesota Wild and makes a surprise comeback in their division once 2017 rolls around.
Please Don’t Pinch Us: The Toledo Walleye’s season so far has been very impressive. Having only lost four games and boasting a sizzling .840 win record, the team has shown to be a leader of the Western Conference, one that can keep up with the brute forces of Florida, Orlando, and Manchester of the Eastern Conference. In fact, the Walleye are dominating over these forces, leading the top seated Monarchs by a good four points. Their win percentage outpaces the second place team in the league by a cool 10%. The greatest wish fans of the Walleye have this year would be to hope that this isn’t a dream and that the Walleye will continue to ride their success all the way to the Kelly Cup.
A light at the End of the Tunnel: The Oilers have been pretty good this season. After starting out by surprising the league with wins over some of the top teams, including the (at the time) powerhouse Utah Grizzlies, the Oilers have secured a spot in second place in the Central Division. This is surprising, considering the team’s mediocre season last year. Although the team has had success, they have also had some struggles as well. The team has hit some “bumps” this season, with erratic changes in their styles of play, especially the special teams. With a penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league, the team has lost six straight home games over the past month, with one of the worst occurring against Allen Americans Tuesday night. Tulsa not only allowed the Americans to go three-for-three on the power play but also allowed the Americans to score shorthanded. This all was summed up by a disappointing 6-3 loss. The Oilers and their fans wish for the team to find a light at the end of this tunnel of losses, and for the Oilers team that showed up in the beginning of the season to make a return for the new year.
Better Defense for a Full 60: Wichita would be much higher in the standings if the defense was tighter. The Thunder are dead last in shots allowed in the ECHL, giving up an average of 37.45 shots per game. They are being outscored 28-20 in the third period this season, a sign the defense plays too loose late in games.
More Stability with Call-ups: While it is good to see the Thunder finally gain an affiliation after 24 years of going alone, it would be even better to see higher caliber players develop in Wichita. Currently, the Binghamton Senators (AHL Affiliate of the Ottawa Senators) have Alex Krushelnyski, Jack Rodewald, Gabriel Gagne, Chris Rumble, and Scott Greenham on their roster. All of them have logged time with Wichita this year, and some of them would see more extensive ice-time on the Thunder team which could use their developing skills. Binghamton’s roster with the six players above mentioned is comprised of 15 forwards, seven defensemen, and a goaltender. Instead of stockpiling the good talent in Binghamton, the organizations should work together to have personnel moving between the two cities in a way that ensures solid development for the players and consistent wins for both teams.
I’d like to thank Matthew Harding, Anna Headley, and Amanda Gunnells, and the members of Team Sin Bin who contributed ideas for this wish list.