With another weekend of hockey in the rearview mirror, Dakota Johnson and I give you our three takeaways from the last week in the ECHL, plus tell you who we would choose as the league award winners for the week, as well as the month of November.
3. In-season affiliation splits have happened before
In light of last week’s major news that the NHL’s Nashville Predators and ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals broke off their affiliation just 16 games into the 2017-18 campaign, we decided to look and see if this has happened before.
Indeed, it has.
Oddly enough, the last in-season affiliation separation happened during the 2007-08 season (the ECHL’s 20th season in business) when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dayton Bombers parted ways. In much the same way as what is believed to have happened in Norfolk, a Blue Jackets official who had ties to the Dayton front office left and the affiliation was ended mid-season.
For the last half of the season, Bombers players skated with the jerseys that still had some indication of the Blue Jackets patch on them (the patches were removed after the affiliation was terminated.)
If you are wondering how the Bombers fared the rest of that season without any affiliate help, they finished a couple of games under .500 but ended up making the playoffs. Back then, the playoffs were top 5 in the division and the fourth and fifth seeds played a mini 3-game series, with the winner playing the 1-seed in the next round. Dayton was the 5-seed and ended up being swept by Johnstown in that mini-series. The Bombers would fold after the 2008-09 season, and the Gems would take over as the only minor league hockey franchise in the market.
Time will tell if the Admirals share the same fate as the Bombers.
2. Jonathan Lessard leaves for France. Is Allen in trouble?
Saturday, Allen Americans forward Jonathan Lessard bolted for France, after putting up just nine points (6G, 3A) in 20 games in his return to the Americans. While the player leaving itself is not a huge deal, when combined with the sluggish start the Americans have gotten off to, it is enough to raise the question if Allen could end the season as a mid-pack team in the rugged Mountain Division?
Currently, the Americans are in fourth place in the Mountain division, but only two points behind the Colorado Eagles for second. Olivier Archambault is on an extended call-up with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda; leading goal scorer Zach Pochiro is expected to miss at least eight more weeks with a hand injury; Peter MacArthur is out with a lower-body injury; and future ECHL Hall of Famer Riley Gill continues to be out after suffering a neck/head injury earlier in the season.
The Americans have received steady contributions from Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Joel Chouinard, and Bryan Moore, but the void of Lessard will put the spotlight on players like Mathieu Aubin, Zach Hall, and Spencer Asuchak to step up their games and chip in more offensively.
Given Allen’s track record over the last several years, the month of December will be crucial to see if Allen can remain as one of the top-tier teams in the ECHL. Steve Martinson has a knack for making the timely move or player signing that gets his team going, so you can never count the Americans out.
1. Who can challenge Florida in the East?
The Everblades have emerged as the team to beat in the ECHL at the quarter-pole of the season. While this is a spot they are accustomed to, the style in which they are beating teams is not when you look at the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Brad Ralph and goaltending coach Josh Robinson have the best 1-2 goaltending tandem in the league, with Martin Ouelette and Callum Booth. The duo is a combined 16-2-1-2, with a 2.35 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. The ‘Blades also have four players with a +10 defensive rating or better, most in the ECHL. Offensively, the Blades have scored an average of 3.52 goals per game, which is tied for 7th best in the ECHL with Allen.
Considering the 12 teams in the conference are allowing an average of 3.43 goals per game and do not have the tandem that Florida does, it is hard to see anyone emerging from the pack and putting up a consistent threat to the Everblades the rest of the regular season. That is, unless, the ‘Blades are impacted by a rash of call-ups and injuries which can happen at any time.
Time to hand out some virtual “hardware!”
If we were given award ballots, here are our choices for the league’s weekly and monthly awards.
Goalie of the Month – Pat Nagle (TOL): Nagle went 7-1-1 with a 2.66 goals against average and a save percentage of .907 in nine appearances during the month.
Player of the Month – Caleb Herbert (GRN): Herbert scored 11 goals and assisted on 12 others for 23 points, and was a league-best +12, in 13 games during the month. The 26-year-old scored at least one point in all but one game in November, and had multiple points in seven of his 13 outings, including four three-point games – Nov. 7 at Orlando, Nov. 15 vs. Atlanta, Nov. 18 at South Carolina and Nov. 30 vs. Florida.
Goalie of the Week – Jake Hildebrand (TUL): Hildebrand went 1-1-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a save percentage of .949 in three appearances at Idaho last week. He stopped 40 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss on Wednesday, made 46 saves in a 4-1 win on Friday and turned aside 25 shots in a 2-1 loss on Saturday.
Player of the Week – Emerson Clark (JAX): The rugged Jacksonville forward continues to shine in head coach Jason Christie‘s system. This past week, he picked up eight points (4G, 4A) to go with a fighting major. On the year, Clark has 22 points (8G, 14A) and 113 penalty minutes, which is tops in the ECHL.
Goalie of the Month – Phillippe Desrosiers (IDH): Desrosiers went 6-1-0 last month, with a 2.65 goals against average and a .903 save percentage in net for the Steelheads. He also allowed two or fewer goals in four of his seven starts.
Player of the Month – Caleb Herbert (GRN): See above
Goalie of the Week – Sam Brittain (COL): The Eagles netminder went 2-0-0 last weekend against the Utah Grizzlies, with a 1.97 goals against average and a .936 save percentage.
Player of the Week – Shawn Szydlowski (FTW): The fifth-year Komets forward had a good week last week, averaging two points per game in two games. Szydlowski is on a six-game point streak during which time he has piled up 11 points (5G, 6A) and vaulted into the team-lead in points.