On behalf of everyone at The Sin Bin, we wish you a very safe and happy new year!

As we look forward to a new year, filled with new promises, hopes, and opportunities, let’s take a look back at the top five stories of the year 2015 in the ECHL.

Before we get started, here are two of the stories that made honorable mention:

  1. Evansville IceMen Lease Deal Saga
  2. ECHL sponsorship deal with Geico

Now, let our countdown begin!

#5: The ECHL Takes it Outdoors

Toledo held the first outdoor games in ECHL history this year
Toledo held the first outdoor games in ECHL history this year. Photo Courtesy: Toledo Blade

The city of Toledo, Ohio became the center of the ECHL universe for ten days at the turn of the new year, as the Toledo Walleye held the first outdoor games in ECHL history.

In the first game, against the Kalamazoo Wings, the Walleye lost 2-1 as Matt Caria scored the game-winning goal with just over three-and-a-half minutes left. The game against the Fort Wayne Komets was delayed one night due to rain and poor ice conditions, but when the finally got it going, with the Komets taking the game 3-2 in the shootout.

In addition to the ECHL games, the Fifth Third Field was also host to multiple public skates, high school and pee-wee games. Over at Huntington Center, the Stanley Cup was on hand for photos. While at the Toledo Museum of Art, snow sculptors were allowed to show off some of their work.

All in all, Mother Nature provided the right mix of cold temperatures, snow and sunshine on the event, which brought in more than 100,000 people to the area at a boost economically of more than $2 million.

#4: Missouri’s Turnaround

ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna, Brent Thiessen, Matt Adams, and Lamar Hunt Jr. on the ice at the Silverstein Ice Centers Arena. (Photo: John Howe)
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna, Brent Thiessen, Matt Adams, and Lamar Hunt Jr. on the ice at the Silverstein Ice Centers Arena. Photo: John Howe/The Sin Bin

One organization that has made significant strides in 2015 is the Missouri Mavericks. The long awaited sale of the team from Matt Adams to Lamar Hunt, Jr. was announced to a raucous crowd at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena on February 6th.

Since then, Hunt has worked diligently to grow the Mavericks fanbase by selling them as Kansas City’s hockey team — an advertising strategy that should pay significant dividends as the team continues to have success on the ice. Despite having a rough inaugural season in the ECHL, head coach Richard Matvichuk and general manager Brent Thiessen diligently put the building blocks in place for their incredible run so far this season.

On June 11th, the New York Islanders announced a new affiliation with the Mavericks. Offensive and defensive systems would be uniform throughout the entire affiliation. Strength and conditioning techniques and strategies as well. From John Tavares to the last guy on the bench for the Mavericks, every player in the organization would be using the same systems, verbiage, and strategies every time that they stepped onto the ice. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months, it’s worked out pretty well.

The Sin Bin’s Joe Rozycki chronicled 2015 for the Mavericks, you can read it, here: https://thesinbin.net/missouri-mavericks-top-moments-of-2015/

#3: South Carolina’s Record Setting Win Streak

For 52 days in 2015, the South Carolina Stingrays were the toast of the ECHL and over time, the hockey world. The Stingrays ran off an ECHL-record 23-game winning streak that started on Saturday, February 7th with a 7-1 win over the then Greenville Road Warriors.

Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery would describe the first win of the streak as “a much needed sigh of relief for our hockey club.” At the time, the Stingrays were at 18-18-7 (43 points) on the season, mired in a 1-7-2 slump and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

During the streak, South Carolina would outscore their opponents 100-35, win a league record 13-straight road wins and hold the opposition to two or less goals in 16 of the 23 games, including six shutouts.

Jeff Jakaitis would put together a personal 15-game winning streak that included a run of four straight shutouts.

At the end of the streak, on March 28th, the Stingrays were in the second position in the Eastern Conference with a record of 41-18-7 (89 points).

I had a chance to interview then Stingrays announcer Joey Zakrzewski prior to the start of the Kelly Cup Finals. I asked him about the streak and more. Give it a listen!

#2a: The 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs

The Kelly Cup playoffs were as entertaining start to finish as any tournament in hockey last Spring.

The influx of seven teams in from the defunct Central Hockey League created a format that had divisional playoffs, followed by conference championship series and the Kelly Cup Finals.

The ECHL’s 2015 version of the tournament featured eight game 7’s; 22 overtime games and of those, four went to double overtime with two going to triple overtime.

South Carolina’s Wayne Simpson set the ECHL postseason scoring mark during the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs, tallying 38 points (13g-25a) in 27 games. Simpson broke the previous mark of 34 points which was set by Richmond’s Blaine Moore in 1995 and tied by Louisiana’s John Spoltore in 2000. Simpson’s linemate, Andrew Rowe, finished the playoffs with 34 points, tying Moore and Spoltore for the second-highest point total in a single playoff year.

#2: Allen Americans Win First Kelly Cup Championship

Americans Captain Jamie Schaafsma hoists the Kelly Cup. Photo Courtesy Lauren Lyssy
Americans Captain Jamie Schaafsma hoists the Kelly Cup. Photo Courtesy: Lauren Lyssy

In their first season in the ECHL, the Allen Americans hoisted the Kelly Cup. The title was won in a 6-1 rout of the Stingrays in game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals.

ECHL scoring champion Chad Costello (125 points) and ECHL leading goal scorer Gary Steffes (44 goals) figured in all six Allen goals. Costello got the first and third goals for Allen along with an assist. Steffes scored the fourth goal for Allen which was the goal that chased ECHL MVP goalie Jeff Jakaitis from the game after just 26 minutes.

Allen’s Greger Hanson was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs, becoming the first non-goaltender to win the award since 2011.  Hanson finished third in the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs with 29 points (12g-17a) in 25 games. He had at least one point in 15 of his 25 postseason games and was tied for the playoff lead with three game-winning goals.

Goaltender Riley Gill recorded four wins in the Kelly Cup Finals, giving him eight career Finals wins, which ties the all-time record for most wins in the Riley/Kelly Cup Finals. The second title also put him in rarified air among ECHL netminders, as he became the fifth goaltender to win multiple championships (Reading 2013).

The Sin Bin’s Barry Janssen looks at the Allen win: https://thesinbin.net/allen-wins-kelly-cup-you-will-walk-together-forever/

The Allen win was a statement to those across the ECHL, who thought the seven “expansion” teams from the CHL were slouches and not built to play in their “good ol’ boys” league. During the offseason, amidst tons of speculation about the health of the CHL, Martinson built his roster to suit ECHL standards and formed an affiliation prior to the start of the season.

During the playoff run, Allen was met with a stiff test in the Western Conference Finals, down 3-1 in the series and 2-1 in game 5 to the Ontario Reign. The Americans exploded for a five-goal third period that gave them loads of momentum headed back to the Allen Event Center for games 6 & 7.  In the Kelly Cup Finals, the Americans stood toe-to-toe with the vaunted Stingrays for seven grueling games. In my opinion, this was Steve Martinson’s best coaching job.

I had a chance to interview Allen’s Tommy Daniels as part of our inaugural episode of Into The Sin Bin. Listen to it, here: https://thesinbin.net/podcast/into-the-sin-bin-with-brian-mckenna-and-tommy-daniels/

#1a: Affiliation Rule

With the ECHL/AHL alignment shaking up, the opportunity was open to change something that had long been a stigma on the ECHL, the affiliation rule.

In the past, teams could have as many affiliates as they want. This helped teams at the double-A level with payroll and travel costs.

During the past offseason though, that all changed. Teams were only permitted to have one primary NHL affiliate. This opened the door to a lot of shuffling, as teams like Kalamazoo, had shed two NHL clubs.

We also witnessed all except one of the old-CHL clubs (Wichita) pair up with an NHL franchise, and two organizations known for affiliations (Alaska and Colorado) become independent.

The difference has been stark.

Last year, every team in the Kelly Cup Playoff field was affiliated. This year, the three unaffiliated teams have a collective record of 31-50-4-5.

#1: ECHL/AHL Re-Alignment

The west-ward shift of the AHL was inevitable and the shake-up it would cause across minor pro hockey is still being felt as I write this on New Year’s Eve.

January 30, the ECHL announced the move of three teams: the Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals and Adirondack Thunder (formerly Stockton Thunder.) While the teams have slumped attendance wise, Manchester and Adirondack are firmly in playoff positions as the calendar turns to 2016. Norfolk is a rebuilding, young franchise that will take it’s lumps this year.

Our AHL California correspondents, Duck and Hound, recently looked at how the new west division is working out in a pair of articles: https://thesinbin.net/ahl-pacific-division-perks and https://thesinbin.net/ahl-pacific-division-mileage/.

Man, it has been a fun year of hockey and news in the ECHL! It has been an honor to bring it to you. We hope you stay with us in 2016 for the most complete news across all of minor pro hockey!

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