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 2016 in the ECHL.

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

2. Evansville’s lease saga ends with the IceMen announcing they will go to Owensboro, KY. On the way out of Evansville, Geary put a stamp on the ending, as only he can. It turned out the move will not happen due to funding issues.

1. The ECHL announces a new conference and division alignment after the schedule for the season was announced. While it has yet to play out in terms of the standings and playoff races, we still think the league screwed the pooch on this.

Now, let our countdown begin!

#5: ECHL Commissioner Emeritus Thomas J. Kelly Wins Lester Patrick Award

Commissioner Emeritus of the ECHL, Patrick Kelly

One of the highest honors someone associated with the sport of hockey to receive is the Lester Patrick Award, who spent 50 years in hockey as a player, coach, and general manager and was a pioneer in the sport’s development. The award was first presented in 1966 to honor New York Rangers general manager and coach Lester Patrick, who led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 15 of his first 16 years with the club.

“Few people have touched the lives of as many fans, players, coaches and officials over the past 60 years as Mr. Kelly,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. “This is a fitting tribute in recognition of his work in hockey over the past 60-plus years in this country. He has been, and continues to be, a terrific ambassador, not just for the ECHL, but hockey in general.”

Kelly celebrates his 64th season in hockey in 2016-17 having begun his career with the St. Catherine Tee Pees of the Ontario Junior Hockey League in 1952. He played professionally for the Trois Rivieres Lions in the Quebec League, the Troy Bruins of the International Hockey League and the Greensboro Generals, Jersey Devils and Clinton Comets of the Eastern Hockey League. He helped Crowland capture the 1948-49 Bantam B Championship of Ontario, beating Peterborough in the finals.

He began his head-coaching career in the Eastern Hockey League, beginning with the Jersey Devils in 1964-65 and later with the Clinton (New York) Comets from 1965-73, serving as a player/coach for both clubs. Clinton was 151-39-28 under Kelly’s leadership and won three straight regular-season and postseason titles from 1968-70. In 1967-68, the Comets finished with a 57-5-10 record, making them the only professional team in history to lose only five games or less in a season, and in 1969-70, Kelly was named Minor League Coach of the Year by The Hockey News as the Comets captured their third consecutive title. Kelly served as head coach and general manager for Charlotte in the Southern Hockey League from 1973-76 guiding the Checkers to a 136-68-12 record, two regular-season titles and two postseason titles while earning Coach of the Year honors in the SHL twice.

He coached the Colorado Rockies in the National Hockey League in 1977-78 and is the only coach in history to lead the Rockies into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following coaching stops in Rochester and Binghamton of the American Hockey League, Kelly went to Peoria in the International Hockey League where he led the Rivermen to the Turner Cup championship in 1984-85, his sixth title as a head coach, while also receiving the Commissioners’ Trophy as IHL Coach of the Year. He recorded his 800th career win on Jan. 4, 1987 and was inducted into the Peoria Sports Hall of Fame in February of 1990. Kelly was inducted into the Roanoke Hall of Fame and the Sports Hall of Fame in his hometown of Welland, Ontario in 1998, in March of 2002 he became the first inductee into the Greensboro Hockey Hall of Fame when the Generals retired his uniform number (5) and in June 2010, he was inducted into the Greater Utica (N.Y.) Sports Hall of Fame.

Kelly and Mark Howe were honored as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in Philadelphia.

Below is a video compilation of the event from the ECHL:

The Sin Bin congratulates Mr. Kelly for his incredible honor!

#4: Missouri Mavericks Goaltender Josh Robinson’s Streak

Josh Robinson is congratulated by CJ Ludwig after a Mavs win. (Photo: John Howe/The Sin Bin)

It all started with a simple, harmless message. “I’m going to be the best goalie in the league this year. I’ve worked too hard not to be,” Missouri Mavericks goalie Josh Robinson told The Sin Bin’s Joe Rozycki.

Just when you thought the winning streak for an ECHL goaltender record could not be touched, Robinson went bulldozed it and put it further out of reach.

Just ten months after Jeff Jakaitis set a new ECHL record for consecutive wins by a goaltender (16 at the time,) Robinson rewrote the record book after a 6-5 OT win against the Evansville IceMen on January 27th. The 17th straight win bolstered his record to a ridiculous 21-0-0-1. He would go on to win 21 straight games, a record likely not to be reached or exceeded for a while.

In addition to the consecutive wins record, Robinson put together a collectively historic season. He finished the season with a 28-2-0-1 record, led the ECHL in GAA at 1.88 (fourth best all-time in ECHL history), save percentage at .931, tied for second with 28 wins (Joel Martin from Kalamazoo had eight more wins, but needed 32 more games to get there), and set a new ECHL record with 21 consecutive victories. That is bananas.

As a team, the Mavericks won the Brabham Cup with a record of 52-15-3-2 (109 points). The team won a round in the Kelly Cup playoffs but ultimately fell to the Allen Americans in six games of the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Sin Bin’s Editor-in-Chief Joe Rozycki chronicles the Year of Robo, which you can read, here: https://thesinbin.net/the-year-of-robo/

#3: Linesmen’s Death and Response

2016 was a tough year for the fraternity of referee’s and linesmen in the ECHL. During the 2015-16 season, the league lost linesmen Camden Nuckols and Butch Mousseaux. 

Nuckols, who passed away unexpectedly following a brief illness at the age of 25. He worked as an ECHL linesman in Orlando from 2011-2015, working a total of 61 regular-season games and two playoff games.

In addition to working as an ECHL official, Nuckols won a Florida state hockey championship as a teenager and officiated collegiate and Orlando Youth Hockey Association tournaments.

Mousseaux passed after sustaining injuries at a collegiate hockey game in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 25. He had been an ECHL official since the 1999-2000 season, working over 300 games, while also serving as a collegiate referee. He was a full-time WCHA referee for 16 seasons, beginning with the 2003-04 campaign; and, a part-time official in the NCHC since the league’s inception in 2013-14. He was also a USA Hockey official since 1998, and also had assignments in the American Hockey League and Central Hockey League. As the first Native American to work a game at the top level of the sport, Mousseaux’s National Hockey League officials’ sweater and skates are in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Mousseaux is survived by his wife, Macaire; their three beautiful children Sam, Abbie and Olivia; his parents Oliver and Mary; sisters, Beth and Fran; and his brothers, Charlie and Joey.

Ernst offers his thoughts on both Nuckols and Mousseaux in an episode of Into the Sin Bin, recorded on September 15: https://thesinbin.net/into-the-sin-bin-with-sam-ftorek-and-joe-ernst/

#2: Bob Chase’s Passing

A pillar of Fort Wayne Komets hockey and a legend in the radio industry, Bob Chase, passed Thanksgiving morning after a bout with congestive heart failure. 

“This is a very sad day in Komet history and Fort Wayne history. We have lost the John Wayne of Fort Wayne and the hockey broadcasting world,” Komet general manager David Franke said.

“We will never again hear his play-by-play call of Komet hockey or the wise and respected voice of WOWO radio. I will always be grateful for all I learned from Bob. He gave me the opportunity to work with the Komets during the 1988-89 season and his words of wisdom, support and guidance will always be with me. Bob Chase is a legend in every sense of the word and we will miss him dearly.”

Chase was the voice of Komets hockey on WOWO radio for generations of fans, being behind the microphone for 63 seasons.

The team honored Chase by putting his name in the rafters at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. During his tenure, the Komets have gone through five sets of owners, 25 coaches, more than 1,000 players and 70 different opposing teams. Of the Komets’ 532 playoff games during their 64-year history, Chase has called 526 of them. Of the Komets’ 4,890 regular-season games, Chase has likely called around 4,500 of those. Chase was named ECHL Broadcaster of the Year after the 2013-14 season, adding to similar honors from the International Hockey League, the United Hockey League, and Central Hockey League.

Chase won the Lester Patrick award from USA Hockey and the National Hockey League in 2012 for service to the sport in the United States. That year he was also given a key to the city by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and was inducted into the Northern Michigan University Hall of Fame.

Outside of his hockey duties, Chase was a DJ and sports director for WOWO radio. He interviewed prominent figures such as Elvis Presley, A.J. Foyt, Bob Hope, and the late President Richard Nixon.

Our continued thoughts and prayers are with the Chase family.

#1a. Wheeling’s Improbable Run to Kelly Cup Finals

2016 was a year of shuffling behind the bench for the Wheeling Nailers. The shuffling started prior to the start of 2016 when Clark Donatelli was promoted to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to succeed Mike Sullivan as head coach (Sullivan was promoted to NHL Pittsburgh after Mike Johnston was let go following a 15-10-3 start.

Photo: Sarah Hobday/The Sin Bin

David Gove was promoted to succeed Donatelli, and he brought on Jeff Christian. Together, Gove and Christian helped lead the Nailers up the Eastern Conference standings, where the Nailers finished as the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Hours before the start of their eastern conference semifinal series against the Reading Royals, the Nailers announced Gove would take a leave of absence from the team and Christian was vaulted to the spotlight of head coach.

The musical chairs behind the bench did not matter to the veteran group. Combined with players like Riley BraceJohn McCarronMathew Maione and Cody Wydo, Christian led the Nailers to the Kelly Cup finals, where they took on the Allen Americans.

Weeks after the season was over, Christian took over as head coach of the Nailers. The reason for Gove’s departure was never disclosed.

#1: Allen Americans Cements Spot in Hockey Pantheon

Photo: Kimberly Sauer/The Sin Bin

Allen won their fourth-straight league title and second straight Kelly Cup championship over the Wheeling Nailers in six games of the Kelly Cup Finals.

The series started with a pair of high-scoring games, as the teams combined for 21 goals in the opening two games of the series, including 13 in a wild game two that Wheeling held on to win.

Wheeling would take game three at Wesbanco Arena, but Allen would come back to win the final two games in West Virginia to go up three games to two as the series shifted back to Texas for the final two games.

In game six, the scoring got underway at the 4:44 mark of the first period when Tristan King fired a puck by Brian Foster on the power play to give Allen a 1-0 lead. The Nailers’ Riley Brace was serving a roughing penalty at the time of the goal.

Roughly five minutes later, the red-hot Greger Hansen scored his 15th goal of the postseason, again on the power-play, potting a beautiful feed from Chad Costello to give Allen a 2-0 lead.

From there, the Wheeling Nailers began to assert themselves. In the middle of a 16-shot barrage, the Nailers got on the scoreboard at the 9:32 mark of the second period. John McCarron poked a puck by Riley Gill to narrow the lead to 2-1.

Wheeling continued their push into the third period, but a Brett Stern slashing minor gave the Americans’ power play their fourth opportunity of the night. It would be one they would again capitalize on. Eric Roy fired a puck at the top of the slot that beat Brian Foster and gave Allen a 3-1 lead.

With Gill out of the net, Cody Wydo scored into the open net to narrow the Americans lead to 3-2 with 7:06 to go in regulation. Gill was called on to make several big saves down the stretch, including an open-net chance from Ty Loney with 3-and-a-half minutes left.

Gary Steffes salted the game away with an empty-net goal with half-a-minute left.

Here is a video compilation from Allen on their Kelly Cup championship series against the Nailers:

I wrote an essay on the greatness of Allen’s run on the day after their latest championship win: https://thesinbin.net/no-mistaking-the-greatness-of-allens-run/

Man, it has been a fun year of hockey and news in the ECHL! It has been an honor to bring it to you. Our thanks go out to all the media directors across the ECHL and director of communications, Joe Babik, for working with us. Without you, none of what we do is possible.

We hope you stay with us in 2017 as we continue bringing you the story of minor pro hockey from the local level.

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