Tonight, seven games will open up the 27th season of the ECHL, which has been through quite a lot through the summer and even up to a couple weeks back. However, that’s all done and the ice beckons for some action. Here’s some things I think you could look forward to coming into the the 2014-15 season.
1. How CHL Teams Adapt: Obviously, this is something that could very well show more in the start of the season than down the line. Most old CHL teams had to rethink about their rosters that were all but put together due to ECHL roster rules and they’ll have to adjust to the faster pace games that could occur in the ECHL. The Central Division could be an interesting one considering they won’t see many ECHL coming through their doors this year (the Missouri Mavericks face ECHL teams six times, three times against Fort Wayne). That said, the games against each other will be interesting ones to see the skill level between each side.
2. Title Defense In The Last Frontier: With the Alaska Aces lifting their 3rd Kelly Cup championship banner Friday night, the target will be on their back, as it often is. The Aces are one of the class organizations in the ECHL with the ability to turnover talent without missing much of a beat and having winning teams through and through. The big task for the Aces is going to be trying to go back-to-back, which hasn’t been done since the Toledo Storm did it in 1993 and 1994. More over, the last time a Kelly Cup champion missed the playoffs was the Trenton Titans in 2006, the same year of the first Aces’ championship. Of course, the repeat is probably more likely than missing out, but you never know what could happen when it comes to hockey these days.
3. Indy Fuel’s First Season: For the first time in ten years, minor-pro hockey is back in Indianapolis with the Fuel and they could very well be different from other expansion teams to come into the ECHL for a while. In the pre-season, the Fuel went a perfect 3-0-0, scoring nine goals from seven different players and only allowing two goals in all of those games. Sure, you can take all of those with a grain of salt, but for a team that is new from head to toe, it’s a great sign they could have little slip-up with respects to succeeding to start the season. Luckily the veteran goaltending in Mac Carruth and Cody Reichard will be a big boost to the team as the young guys (like Rhett Bly and Klarc Wilson) get their bearings about them.
4. The Revitalization of Angelo Esposito: At 25-years-old, this could be Angelo Esposito‘s last chance to kick-start his NHL career, as he starts from the near bottom in the ECHL and will try to work his way up to his ultimate goal. With two goals and four points in three pre-season games, Esposito looks primed to do some big things in the ECHL….should he be able to stay healthy throughout and hope that this pre-season performance is not a mirage for the rest of this season. After a European adventure, Esposito knows it’s time for him to prove himself in North America and get to the NHL. If there’s one guy who many scouting nerds will look at in the ECHL, it could very well be Esposito.
5. The Great Outdoors: Sure, it’s not until December, but the ECHL will be taking their games outdoors with two games in Toledo as the Walleye will take on the Kalamazoo Wings and Fort Wayne Komets a week between each other at Fifth Third Field in Toledo. As its first two outdoor games, the ECHL will look at this to see whether or not they will want to approve more outdoor games in the future, especially dependent upon the market that wants to take on the task of putting something together like this. The ECHL may be the last to his party, but they’re making sure that all the stars align perfectly in order to make this a success rather than just doing it for the sake of doing. Luckily, Toledo has a Winterfest going on and it lines up perfectly for everyone involved. The big deal is whether or not they can have decent ice for the game and how much of a success it’ll be at the box office, too.