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Friday night, 22 of 27 teams will kick off the second half of the 2017-18 ECHL season and the race for the Kelly Cup Playoffs shifts into overdrive. Before the puck drops, Dakota Johnson and I give you our three takeaways from the first half of the ECHL season, plus tell you who we would choose for MVP, Most Outstanding Goalie and Coach of the Year in the ECHL.

Let’s get ‘er rollin’!

1. Rob Murray’s Medical Emergency

One of the scariest moments in the last several years in the ECHL happened on Friday, November 16 in Moline, Illinois, when during the second period of play, Oilers Head Coach Rob Murray suddenly collapsed.

“What happened here? We have a scary moment,” Oilers announcer John Peterson reported during the broadcast. “Oilers head coach Rob Murray looks like he’s feeling light-headed. I’m not sure if he fainted or what. Oilers trainer Steve Lintern is keeping a close watch on coach Murray. A real scary moment actually here as the medical staff is coming out onto the ice to check on coach Murray.

“Hockey is no longer important at this juncture. … I can’t imagine that we continue this game. … I have to sign off the air right now. They’re calling me down to the ice. We’ll keep you posted throughout the night on the situation.”

Murray would be diagnosed with extreme dehydration and with a blood clot in his lung. After taking five days off, Murray rejoined the Oilers during the Black Hills stop on their 14-game road trip.

According to Tulsa World reporter Bill Haisten, the Oilers’ coach has reshaped his diet by tripling his water intake and eating healthier.

“I’m on blood thinners now and I’m taking better care of myself,” Murray explained. “I want to be there for my family and my team. I’ve got a lot to live for.”

We wish Coach Murray all the best in his continued recovery from a terrifying incident.

2. Nashville/Norfolk Separation

Days after Murray’s medical emergency in the Quad Cities came the second biggest story of the first half of the ECHL season. In a rare move, the Nashville Predators and Norfolk Admirals announced they would dissolve their affiliation. The move came after Nashville moved all their contracted players out of the Tidewater, and shifted most of them to Atlanta and other ECHL cities.

Days earlier, Michael Santos was fired days after the Admirals got off to a slow start to the season. Santos, by many accounts, was the architect of the deal and had been on the job just a few months when the affiliation was announced.  A team source told the Virginian Pilot that the relationship quickly soured after Santos’ dismissal.

“The affiliation change announced today does not affect the normal daily operations of the team or the Admirals’ organization as a whole, but is a sign of the commitment this organization has to do whatever it takes to ensure the team’s success here in Hampton Roads,” said Chief Revenue Officer Trent Ferguson. “The only thing that drives our business and team decisions is our continued mission to create a shining organization that this area can be proud of.”

During the transition from the Nashville organization to being unaffiliated, the Admirals called up a flurry of SPHL players and signed some free agents. Since the dissolution of the affiliation on November 28, the Admirals have a record of 8-6-3-1 and open the season’s second half Friday night eight points out of the final playoff spot in the South Division.

3. Could Eagles leave ECHL as back-to-back Kelly Cup Champs?

This question is rhetorical more than anything, but Aaron Schneekloth has his Eagles’ squad in a great position to successfully defend their Kelly Cup Championship from a year ago.

The Eagles head into the second half of the season on a 12-game unbeaten streak, have the league’s leading goal scorer and point scorer in Michael Joly (29 goals, 43 points), and the best netminder in the league with Sam Cannata (15-1-1-0, 2.07 goals against average, .935 sv%, 2 SO). Not to mention, the Eagles have one of the best blueline tandems in the league with Matt Register and Jake Marto.

All of that spells a tremendous start for the Eagles, who have a league-best record of 28-5-4-0 (60 points) and a 12-point lead on the Idaho Steelheads in what was widely considered one of the toughest divisions in the ECHL, the Mountain Division. The Eagles also have a scant one-point lead on the Florida Everblades in the race for the Brabham Cup and home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Looking back to 2006-07, the winners of the Brabham Cup have gone on to win the Kelly Cup three times.

2006-07 Las Vegas Wranglers Lost in Conference Semis to Idaho
2007-08 Cincinnati Cyclones WON KELLY CUP
2008-09 Florida Everblades Lost in South Division Finals to SC
2009-10 Idaho Steelheads Lost in Kelly Cup Finals to Cincinnati
2010-11 Alaska Aces WON KELLY CUP
2011-12 Alaska Aces Lost in Conference Finals to Las Vegas
2012-13 Alaska Aces Lost in Conference Semis to Stockton
2013-14 Alaska Aces WON KELLY CUP
2014-15 Toledo Walleye Lost in Conference Finals to SC
2015-16 Missouri Mavericks Lost in Conference Semis to Allen
2016-17 Toledo Walleye Lost in Conference Finals to Colorado

If there is one thing going against the Eagles when compared to last season, the team is younger and there has been a steady flux of players moving between Loveland and San Antonio (AHL), so there may be not as much cohesion in the line up as coach Schneekloth would like. That said, the Eagles should be considered the class of the league heading into the Kelly Cup Playoffs, which start in 82 days.

Time to hand out some virtual “hardware!”

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

Harding’s Awards

Most Valuable Player – Casey Pierro-Zabotel (ALN): Been the backbone of the Allen offense so far this year, collecting 42 points in 38 games (10G, 32A).

Most Outstanding Goalie – Martin Ouelette (FLA): Having his best year as a pro, with a 15-3-0-1 record, a 2.20 goals against average, a .917 save percentage, to go with a shutout. Ouelette’s campaign has helped the Florida Everblades position themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Coach of the Year – Aaron Schneekloth (COL): The Eagles coach has the team on a 12-game unbeaten streak at the All-Star break and a 12-point lead over Idaho in the Mountain Division, the largest gap between first and second in the league this year.

Johnson’s Awards

Most Valuable Player – Michael Joly (COL): ECHL’s leading point scorer (43 points) and goal scorer (29). He is one point ahead of Pierro-Zabotel in Allen.

Most Outstanding Goalie – Anthony Peters (CIN): The Cyclones netminder has helped position the Cyclones in third place in the Central Division. He starts the second half of the season with a 10-4-1-0 record, a 2.34 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. He has also had two stints in the American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, this season.

Coach of the Year – Ryan Warsofsky (SC): The second-year Stingrays head coach has the stingiest defense in the ECHL, with the Stingrays allowing a total of 89 goals in 36 games (average of 2.47/per game). The Stingrays got off to their best start in team history this season.

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