ECHL: Northern Division preview

By Al Alven

2003 Preseason Coaches Poll

Note: First-place votes are worth nine points, second place is eight points, continuing down to ninth-place which is one point. First place votes in parentheses.

Northern Division

1.) Reading (4), 71 points
2.) Peoria (2), 65 points
3.) Atlantic City (1), 61 points
4.) Trenton, 56 points
5.) Toledo, 40 points
6.) Cincinnati (1), 36 points
7.) Wheeling (1), 34 points
8.) Johnstown, 25 points
9.) Dayton, 17 points

Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies

NHL Affiliate: None
AHL Affiliate: None

2002-03 regular season: 41-19-12 (94 points), 3rd place
Playoffs: Won Kelly Cup Championship

Head coach: Mike Haviland (3rd season, 83-41-20)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Peter Bournazakis, F; Brian Collins, F; Jon Cullen, F; Luke Curtain, F; Dan Eberly, D; Brian Fahey, D; Kirk Furey, D; Jim Henkel, F; Jim Leger, F; John Longo, F; Jake Moreland, G; Steve Munn, D; Sam Paolini, F; Josh Prudden, F; Dave Reid, D; John Sabo, F; Pierre-Luc Sleigher, F; Scott Stirling, G; Ian Walterson, D.

Prospects to watch:

Matt Hubbauer, C (Age: 20)

Staying healthy has been a problem for Hubbauer, but there is little question that the 5’10″, 188 lb. pivot has what it takes to succeed in the ECHL and maybe beyond. The Winnipeg native enters the season as the Bullies’ most heralded rookie. Prior to turning pro, he spent five seasons with the Regina Pats of the WHL. His best season at the junior level came in 2001-02, when he finished second on the Pats with 82 points (48 goals, 34 assists) in 66 games.

Jake Moreland, G (Age: 24)

Scott Stirling is the Boardwalk Bullies’ undisputed starting goaltender, but there is no guarantee that he will spend the entire season in the ECHL. Last year, for instance, he appeared in 10 games with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The 2003-04 season may bring more of the same and, if so, professional rookie Moreland has to be ready to take the reigns for the defending Kelly Cup champs. The St. Cloud State (1999-2003) product is unproven, but should get every opportunity this season to show what he can do.

Pierre-Luc Sleigher, RW (Age: 21)

Another first year pro, Sleigher racked up his fair share of points – and penalty minutes – in the junior ranks. In 276 games with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers (1999-2003), the Montreal native registered 244 points and an eye-popping 1,021 minutes in the sin bin. He really came into his own over the past two seasons, though his defensive game is still a question mark. Either way, Sleigher is expected to jump right in and become a key contributor for the Bullies.

Cincinnati Cyclones

NHL Affiliate: None
AHL Affiliate: None

2002-03 regular season: 36-29-7 (79 points), 4th place
Playoffs: Lost in third round (conference finals) to A.C., 4-3

Head Coach: Chris Cichocki (1st season)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Jeremy Bachusz, F; Ryan Brindley, D; Mike Casselman, F; Michael Chin, F; Fraser Clair, F; Mark Concannon, F; John Cronin, D; Connor Dunlop, F; Josh Harrold, D; Aaron MacInnis, D; Terry Marchant, F; Mike Murray, F; Jason Norrie, F; Brian Passmore, F; Randy Petruk, G; Trevor Prior, G; Garrett Prosofsky, F; Regan Rome, D; Dean Stork, D; Jeff Worlton, F.

Prospects to watch:

Jeremy Bachusz, C (Age: 24)

Size will always come up when Bachusz’ pro potential is discussed. At just 5’9″, 185 lbs., he is going to have to consistently prove that he belongs. The Waterford, Michigan native is mentally tough, and plays a sound two-way game. Don’t count on the Lake Superior State product to put up big numbers in his first full ECHL season (he appeared in seven games with the Arkansas RiverBlades late last year), but expect to see an honest, hard-working effort every night.

John Cronin, D (Age: 23)

A steady defender at Boston University over the past four seasons, Cronin is at his best when he keeps his game simple and sticks to the fundamentals. He is not the type of player who will ever grab any headlines, but he has the chance to develop into a strong ECHL/fringe AHL defenseman. The Duxbury, Massachusetts native was selected by the Boston Bruins in the eighth round (236th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

Aaron MacInnis, D

The nephew of future Hall of Fame inductee Al MacInnis, Aaron will make his pro debut with the Cyclones this season. He is not blessed with the offensive capabilities of his uncle, but is more than willing to play a solid game in his own end. MacInnis’ road to the ECHL was an odd one, to say the least. He bounced all over the Canadian junior ranks (including two stints in the QMJHL and one in the OHL) before enjoying a four-year collegiate career at the University of Prince Edward Island (1999-2003).

Dayton Bombers

NHL Affiliate: Columbus Blue Jackets
AHL Affiliate: Syracuse Crunch

2002-03 regular season: 24-38-10 (58 points), 9th place
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

Head Coach: Jamie Ling (1st season)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Bujar Amidovski, G; Sean Connolly, D; Riley Cote, LW; Jason Crain, D; Jason Deskins, F; Lance Galbraith, F; Les Hrapchak, D; Alex Johnstone, D; Nate Kiser, D; Alex Lalonde, LW; Richard Naumann, F; Nick Nutcher, D; Martin Paquet, RW; Andrew Penner, G; Olivier Proulx, F; Brad Ralph, F; Jeff Szwez, F; Jake Wiegand, F.

Prospects to watch:

Sean Connolly, D (Age: 23)

Connolly spent the majority of the preseason with the Syracuse Crunch, appearing in three exhibition games with the team. The 6’2″, 185 lb. Flat Rock, Michigan native enters the new season as the Bombers’ top defenseman and a prime AHL recalled candidate. A 2000 draft selection of the Ottawa Senators (5th round, 158th overall), Connolly manned the blueline at Northern Michigan University from 1998-2002. He split last season – his first as a professional – between the Trenton Titans and the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.

Nate Kiser, D (Age: 21)

What you see is what you get with Kiser. The 6’1″, 207 lb. Southgate, Michigan native is a defensive rearguard who takes care of business in his own end and leaves the headline grabbing to other players. Kiser never put up more than 15 points a season during a stellar four-year junior career with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers (1999-2003). He did, however, register his share of PIMs (473), and has all the physical tools to be a solid ECHL rearguard.

Brad Ralph, C (Age: 23)

Ralph is one of the few players in the ECHL who has played in the NHL. Granted, he appeared in only one game in the big league (with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2000-01), but that is more than many of his contemporaries can say. The 6’2″, 190 lb. Richmond, Ontario was drafted by the Coyotes in the 2nd round (53rd overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Obviously, his stock has fallen considerably, as he has bounced around the minor leagues over the past few season. Still, he is a player worth keeping an eye on.

Johnstown Chiefs

NHL Affiliate: San Jose Sharks
AHL Affiliate: Cleveland Barons

2002-03 regular season: 28-33-11 (67 points), 7th place
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

Head coach: Toby O’Brien (2nd season, 28-33-11)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Brent Bilodeau, D; Cory Campbell, G; Chad Cavanagh, C; P.L. Courchesne, D; Ryan Crane, D; David Currie, G; Dominic Forget, C; Dan Growden, D; Steve Hildenbrand, Arturs Irbe, G; C; Mike James, F; Brent Kelly, F; Jay Langager, D; Ian Manzano, D; Shawn Mather, C; Jason Notermann, F; Richard Paul, LW; Josh Piro, F; Ryan Priem, F; Jeff Sullivan, D; Dmitri Tarabrin, RW.

Prospects to watch:

P.L. Courchesne, D (Age: 22)

Courchesne and the rest of the Chiefs’ defensive unit should benefit from the recent addition of goaltender Arturs Irbe to the lineup. It is uncertain at this point just how long the former Carolina Hurricane will stick around, but he will be the team’s starter on opening night. Courchesne is coming off of a solid freshman campaign in the ECHL, and is expected to come into his own this season. In 2002-03, the 6’1″, 210 lb. rearguard tallied 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) and 68 PIMs in 67 games for the Chiefs. He also appeared in three games for the AHL’s St. John Flames, tallying 2 assists and 8 PIMs.

Steve Hildenbrand, C (Age: 22)

One of the Chiefs’ top two-way players in 2002-03, Hildenbrand will be counted upon for increased minutes and production this season. The 5-10, 182 lb. Belle River, Ontario native tallied 41 points (11 goals, 30 assists) and 120 PIMs in 72 games as a rookie. Prior to turning pro, he played for two seasons (2000-2002) with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. In 111 regular season games for the junior team, he tallied 116 points (37 goals, 79 assists) and 140 PIMs. He also added 31 points (7 goals, 24 assists) and 43 PIMs in 25 playoff contests.

Jay Langager, D (Age: 23)

One of Johnstown’s more experienced young defensemen, Langager already has 137 professional games under his belt. He split the 2001-02 season between the ECHL’s Greenville Grrrowl and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, then appeared for the Chiefs and St. John Flames in 2002-03. The 6’1″, 190 lb. Loreburn, Saskatchewan native is a smart, positional rearguard who plays angles well and is an adept stick-checker. He will be expected to log a good amount of icetime this season.

Peoria Rivermen

NHL Affiliate: St. Louis Blues
AHL Affiliate: Worcester IceCats

2002-03 regular season: 48-17-7 (103 points), 2nd place
Playoffs: Lost in first round to Cincinnati, 3-1

Head Coach: Jason Christie (4th season, 134-57-25)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Trevor Baker, F; Brendan Brooks, F; Craig Brunel, F; Scott Crawford, D; Bret DeCecco, F; Miroslav Durek, D; Brian Gaffaney, D; George Halkidis, D; Josh Kern, F; Alex Kim, F; Jakub Komma, F; Mike Nelson, F; Daisuke Obara, F; Craig Olynick, D; Tyler Rennette, F; Randy Rowe, F; Lerente Szuper, G; Garry Toor, D; Mike Valley, G; Joe Vandermeer, D; Jeff Zehr, F.

Prospects to watch:

Tyler Rennette, C (Age: 24)

A few years ago, Rennette was viewed as one of the top, up-and-coming centers in the St. Louis Blues’ system. However, the former second round pick (40th overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft) simply did not develop into the NHL-caliber player that the organization had hoped for. The 6’1″, 180 lb. North Bay, Ontario native is now an ECHL regular after a few unsuccessful stints with the AHL’s Worcester IceCats. He had his best season as a pro last year with Peoria (74 points in 65 games), and will look to build on that performance in 2003-04.

Randy Rowe, LW (Age: 23)

Rowe already has two full seasons of ECHL hockey under his belt. The 5-11, 180 lb. Buford, Ontario native finished second on the Rivermen in scoring last season to Rennette, putting up 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) and 38 PIMs in 69 games. He was, however, held scoreless in four postseason contests. Regardless, Rowe has the ability to become an offensive force for Peoria. Prior to turning pro, he enjoyed a stellar four-year junior career with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls (1997-2001). In his final season with the Bulls, he registered 102 points (64 goals, 38 assists) and 30 PIMs in 63 games.

Levente Szuper, G (Age: 23)

Szuper joins the Rivermen after spending three seasons in the Calgary Flames organization, playing exclusively with the St. John Flames of the AHL. The 5’11″, 175 lb. Budapest, Hungary native was originally drafted by the Flames in the 4th round (116th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He was once thought to be a potential future NHL netminder, but has yet to take the necessary steps in his development. Look for Szuper to have a strong, bounce-back season with Peoria. He should be back in AHL before long.

Reading Royals

NHL Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings
AHL Affiliate: Manchester Monarchs

2002-03 regular season: 32-35-5 (69 points), 6th place
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

Head Coach: Derek Clancey (1st season)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Dean Arsene, D; Brad Church, LW; Kent Davyduke, C; Jeff Finger, D; Adam Hauser, G; Peter Hay, RW; Leon Hayward, RW; Chris Heisten, LW; Darryl Laplante, C; Nick Lent, RW; Jason Maleyko, D; David Masse, LW; Judd Medak, RW; Dominic Periard, D; Geoff Peters, C; Cody Rudkowsky, G; Matt Snesrud, D; Dave Stewart, LW; Ian Turner, D; Jon Zion, D.

Prospects to watch:

Adam Hauser, G (Age: 23)
With minor league veteran Cody Rudkowsky added to the picture (he was assigned to Reading on Thursday by the St. Louis Blues), Hauser will have to battle to maintain his tentative position as the Royals’ top netminder. The Bovey, Minnesota native is preparing to enter his second professional season. He spent the 2002-03 campaign with the ECHL’s Jackson Bandits, compiling a 20-9-4 record, 2.46 GAA and .916 SP. Prior to turning pro, Hauser enjoyed a four-year stint as the starting goaltender at the University of Minnesota (1998- 2002).

David Masse, LW (Age: 20)

One of the youngest players on the Royals’ roster, Masse joins the team straight out of the QMJHL. The 6-0, 175 lb. forward had a tremendous offensive campaign for the Quebec Remparts in 2002-03, finishing 11th in the league in scoring with 98 points (50 goals, 48 assists) and 125 PIMs in 70 games. He also added 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) and 6 PIMs in 11 playoff contests. Obviously, he has the skill to become an offensive contributor right away at the ECHL level. What remains to be seen is whether or not he can handle the physical nature and defensive atmosphere of the professional game.

Jonathan Zion, D (Age: 22)

The Royals are looking to Zion to add punch and an offensive flair to their blueline corps. Last season was an eventful one for the 6-0, 180 lb. Nepean, Ontario native. As a rookie, he immediately established himself as a top-flight ECHL rearguard, accruing 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) and 46 PIMs in 58 games with the Richmond Renegades. He also managed to get into 18 AHL contests, with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Portland Pirates. Expect to see Zion log a ton of minutes throughout the season for Reading.

Toledo Storm

NHL Affiliates: Detroit Red Wings & Nashville Predators
AHL Affiliates: Grand Rapids Griffins & Milwaukee Admirals

2002-03 regular season: 47-15-10 (104 points), 1st place
Playoffs: Lost in second round to Cincinnati, 3-1

Head Coach: Steve Harrison (1st season)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Morton Ask, C; Paul Ballantyne, D; Derek Campbell, LW; Frank Curto, C; Adam Edinger, C; Brandon Fleenor, D; Scott Horvath, RW; Ryan Leasa, D; Wes Mason, LW; Drew McIntyre, G; Peter Ollari, D; Chris Page, LW; Nick Parillo, F; Trevor Read, D; Mike Renzi, C; Joey Sewell, RW; Doug Teskey, G.

Prospects to watch:

Derek Campbell, LW (Age: 23)
Like Cincinnati’s Aaron MacInnis, Campbell played major junior hockey before transferring to a small Canadian university. The 6’1″, 185 lb. Nepean, Ontario native competed in the OHL from 1997-2001 for the Belleville Bulls, Owen Sound Platters and Kingston Frontenacs. He then spent two seasons at St. Thomas University, where he racked up 69 points (25 goals, 44 assists) and 175 PIMs in 51 games. Campbell is a polished all-around player who should adjust to the ECHL with little difficulty.

Ryan Leasa, D (Age: 23)
Leasa made his pro debut last season, appearing in 4 playoff games with the Central Hockey League’s Indianapolis Ice. Prior to that, he spent four seasons patrolling the blueline at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (an institution with a better hockey program than it ever gets credit for). The 6’1″, 185 lb. Sarnia, Ontario native was a reliable defender throughout his collegiate career. He developed good offensive instincts that were evident by his senior season (20 points in 36 games), and looks poised to begin his ECHL career.

Trevor Read, D (Age: 22)

Read made his professional debut with the Storm last season, notching 29 points (6 goals, 23 assists) and 39 PIMs in 60 games (he also had 2 assists and 4 PIMs in 7 postseason contests). The 6’1″, 215 lb. rearguard proved that he could defend reliably, handle the physical rigors of the league and chip in with points on a regular basis. That combination makes him a valuable player in Toledo. A prospect on the ECHL upswing, Read will start the season as one of the Storm’s top four defensemen.

Trenton Titans

NHL Affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers
AHL Affiliates: Philadelphia Phantoms, Binghamton Senators & Springfield Falcons

2002-03 regular season: 38-24-10 (86 points), 4th place
Playoffs: Lost in first round to A.C., 3-0

Head Coach: Bill Armstrong (2nd season, 38-24-10)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Andrew Allen, G; Antoinne Bergeron, D; Scott Bertoli, LW; George Bosak, G; Mathieu Brunelle, LW; Bill Cass, D; Bryce Cockburn, RW; Peter Fregoe, F; Matt Herneison, F; Marty Johnston, F; James Laux, D; Maxim Linnik, D; P.J. Martin, D; Ryan O’Keefe, D; Aaron Phillips, D; Devin Rask, F; Joe Rybar, C; Scooter Smith, LW; Robert Snowball, LW/RW; Vince Williams, D; Matt Zultek, LW

Prospects to watch:

Mathieu Brunelle, LW (Age: 20)

After he signed with the Flyers over the summer, many felt that the diminutive (5’10″, 180 lbs.) Warwick, Quebec native would start his pro career in the AHL. It wasn’t to be, but he may wind up there before long. Brunelle has the speed, skill and tenacity to put up big numbers in the ECHL. He racked up 193 points (81 goals, 112 assists) and 222 PIMs in 142 games over the past two seasons in the QMJHL. Brunelle was a member of the last two “Q” championship teams (Victoriaville Tigers in 2001-02, Hull Olympiques in 2002- 03). He plays the game with confidence, and cannot be intimidated.

James Laux, D (Age: 23)
Hailing from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Laux is attempting to become the first Philadelphia-area native to skate for the Flyers. He inked a minor league deal with the Phantoms during the offseason, and will begin his quest in the ECHL. The 6’2″, 210 lb. rearguard played the last two seasons at Colorado College. In 2002-03, he helped the team to the WCHA regular season championship. Laux has good offensive instincts, and will most likely be used as a powerplay pointman in Trenton.

Robert Snowball, LW/RW (Age: 21)

Don’t be fooled by the name. This 6’3″, 225 lb. forward is a monster on skates, and may take over as the Titans’ primary enforcer right away. Snowball fought his way through the junior ranks (291 PIMs in 92 games with the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers), and hit everything that moved at Flyers training camp this season. He is overzealous at times, but is learning to pick his spots. Snowball is surprisingly athletic, and often catches opponents off guard with his strong skating ability.

Wheeling Nailers

NHL Affiliate: Pittsburgh Penguins

AHL Affiliate: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

2002-03 regular season: 28-41-3 (59 points), eighth place
Playoffs: Failed to qualify

Head Coach: Pat Bingham (1st season)

2003-04 Opening night roster

Ben Blais, D; Nick Boucher, G; Steve Burgess, D; Steve Crampton, F; Brandon Doria, F; JF DuFour, F; Dan Ennis, D; Brendon Hodge, F; Jason Jaffray, F; Mark Kosick, F; Kamil Kuriplach, D; Mike Lephart, F; Tyler MacKay, G; Chris McNamara, F; Arpad Milhaly, F; Jake Ortmeyer, D; Eddie Pershin, F; TJ Reynolds, D; J.C. Ruid, F; Chris Smith, D.

Prospects to watch:

Nick Boucher, G (Age: 22)

Fresh off of a four-year stint with Dartmouth College, Boucher will compete with holdover Tyler MacKay for the Nailers’ starting goaltender job. Selected in the ninth round (280th overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins, he is a longshot prospect. There is a notion within the organization, however, that the Cobble Hill, B.C. native has the tools to be a future NHL backup.

Mark Kosick, C (Age: 24)

The consummate two-way forward, Kosick enjoyed a fine collegiate career with the University of Michigan (1997-2001). His stint in Ann Arbor was highlighted by a freshman season that saw him capture NCAA Rookie of the Year honors, en route to helping the Wolverines to the national championship. All told, he posted 146 points (58 goals, 88 assists) and 62 PIMs in 165 college games. Kosick played in Germany last season, for the Berlin Polar Bears of the DEL.

Jake Ortmeyer, D (Age: 26)

Stay-at-home rearguard helped guide the Fort Wayne Comets to the UHL championship as a rookie last season. The team’s leader with a plus-27 rating, he also appeared in three games with the ECHL’s Trenton Titans. A former Miami University standout (1998-2002), the 6’3″, 210 lb. Ortmeyer should have no problem fitting in on the Nailers’ blueline. The Omaha, Nebraska native is a versatile talent who can also be used at forward in pinch situations. In short, he is a true team player who will do whatever he can to help his squad win.

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