Now that the 2017-18 season is underway, Dakota Johnson and I give you our three takeaways from the last week in the ECHL and tell you who we would choose as the league award winners for the week.

With the ECHL season now five weeks old, this edition of the Takeaways looks at teams who have caught our attention in the early going.

3. The “Chuck Weber” Effect

Anytime you can get a two-time Kelly Cup champion to lead your team; it immediately vaults you to a team to watch for the coming season. Given the timeframe Weber was hired (August 21,) the Gladiators had a bit of a sluggish start as Weber worked to make changes to the roster. While most agreed Atlanta would be a playoff contender this season, few agreed on how quick it would take for the Gladiators to shake off the early season doldrums.

At the time of this article, the Gladiators are one of the hottest teams in the ECHL, having rattled off points in their last eight games, won four straight, and have surged into fourth place in the South Division.

In their last eight games, the Gladiators are outscoring their opponents by an average of 3.88 to 2.87 goals per game (goals for/against). On special teams, the power play has scored goals in four-straight games and operating at a 20 percent clip during the run (6-30), the penalty kill has allowed multiple power-play goals just once and has killed 22 of the last 27 penalties that have been called against them. In net, Dan Vladar has won four straight games and allowing 2.48 goals per game during the stretch.

The Gladiators are a deep squad offensively on both sides of the puck. If they can continue to be stingy on defense, the Gladiators and Chuck Weber will have to be considered one of the elite teams in the East.

2. Cyclones Hitting Their Stride?

After receiving a glut of players (eight to be exact) from the Rochester Americans & Buffalo Sabres at the beginning of the season, many expected Cincinnati to be one of the contenders in the western conference.

So far, so good for the team from Chili City.

The Cyclones went into Florida and defeated the Everblades in two of three games, have won six of their last ten games, and are keeping pace with the Toledo Walleye in the Central Division.

Offensively, the Cyclones are lead by the quartet of Shawn O’DonnellEric KnodelJesse Schultz, and rookie Justin Danforth, who have chipped in a combined 47 points entering play Tuesday. In net, the tandem of Anthony Peters and Jason Kasdorf have been very solid with a combined record of 6-3-1, goals against average of 2.19 and a save percentage of .922.

Head coach Matt MacDonald also did a good job of bringing in guys who can handle the rough & tough business during the offseason, something that is needed if the Cyclones hope to qualify & go far in the playoffs. Guys like Brandon McNally and Arwan Atwal are going to have their roles magnified as we get closer to the end of the season.

Barring a significant wave of call-ups and injuries, the Cyclones look to be one of the teams who have some staying power at the top of the standings in the Central Division this season.

3. Wichita’s Torrid Start

This is without a doubt, the storyline nobody saw coming. After years of having subpar teams, the Wichita Thunder have busted out and now are in the pole position of the ECHL’s Western Conference.

Malcolm Cameron‘s squad is off to their best start in franchise history (11-1-0-0) and are on pace for 65 wins this season (everyone knows that won’t happen) which is more than their last two-plus seasons combined. At a minimum, this season has great potential to become the club’s new high-water mark for wins in the ECHL (32 in 2014-15).

The Thunder have only lost one period on the scoreboard this season (the 3rd period on Nov 3 against Allen) and are 7-1-0 when scoring the first goal in games this season. Offensively, the team has picked up the slack in the wake of the return of Kyle Platzer to Bakersfield. Mark MacMillan has scored seven points (2G, 5A) in his last three games. Rookie forward Lane Bauer is on a four-game point streak, collecting a goal and five assists to take over the rookie-scoring lead for rookies. Zach O’Brien continues to be steady-as-she-goes, collecting points in five of his last six games (2G, 3A).

On the defensive end, while allowing quite a few shots (an average of 34.27 per game,) the defense and goaltending have been very stingy, allowing a league-low 2.27 goals per game.

The power play and special teams have come around after slow starts, ranking third and seventh in the ECHL at the start of play Tuesday.

Wichita has proven they are a versatile team and play whatever style the game evolves into, time will tell if they can keep this going.

Time to hand out some virtual “hardware!”

If we were given award ballots, here are our choices for the league’s major weekly awards:

Harding’s Awards

Goalie of the Week – Connor Ingram (ADK): Ingram went 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and a save percentage of .960 in his first three professional appearances last week.

Player of the Week – Brady Brassart (Idaho): On a career-high seven-game point streak for the Steelheads. Brassart leads the Steelheads with 14 points (6G, 8A) in 12 games this season.

Johnson’s Awards

Goalie of the Week – Connor Ingram (ADK): See above for stats.

Player of the Week – Phil Lane (ATL): Lane scored four goals and added two assists for six points helping the Gladiators to a 3-0-0 record last week. The Rochester, N.Y. native is tied for fourth in the ECHL with nine goals and his 15 points are tied for eighth.

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