This is the first season Hockey’s Future will cover the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) in depth. For those of you that haven’t followed the ECHL we feel a little background information is in order.
The ECHL is the largest developmental professional hockey league in North America. Formed in 1988, the league had five teams. The original five were the Erie Panthers, Johnstown Chiefs, Knoxville Cherokees and the Virginia Lancers. Only the Johnstown Chiefs remain in their original city. The Erie Panthers are now known as the Baton Rouge King Fish. The Knoxville Cherokees relocated to Florence, South Carolina in 1997 and are known as the Pee Dee Pride. The Virginia Lancers are the most traveled team. They made stops in Roanoke, VA as the Rebels 1990-1992 and the Rampage, 1992-93 as well as Huntsville AL in 1993-94 and finally settled in Tallahassee FL as the Tiger Sharks.
During the 1998-1999 season, paid attendance was over 4.8 million fans. The ECHL will have twenty-seven teams, spread out over fourteen states playing this season. Twenty-three of the Twenty-seven NHL teams last season had ECHL affilliates.
It’s been quite the off-season so far on the “Coast”. Here’s a look at the teams making the news:
Arkansas RiverBlades: The RiverBlades are readying for their inaugural season, and have named Geoff Ward as their first head coach.
Ward lead the Guelph Storm ( WHL ) to a 44-22-2 record last season.
The ‘Blades will not only be battling their ECHL opponents on the ice, they will be competing against the WPHL’s Arkansas Glaciercats off the ice. The teams will share home dates 11 times. The Riverblades will call the new Alltel Arena home.
Arkansas took Rob Weingartner ( Louisiana ) with their first pick in the Expansion draft, and Richard Keyes ( Columbus ) in the Dispersal draft.
Birmingham Bulls: Head Coach Dennis Desrosiers will not leave the Bulls to coach the Saginaw UHL club, as rumored. Desrosiers had an escape clause in his contract , but it passed with out event.
Signed: Kory Mullin will return for his forth season with the Bulls. Injuries hindered the offensive minded defenseman last year.
Mullin was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993.
Charlotte Checkers: Head coach Shawn Wheeler has been earning his off-season paycheck by signing his goaltending tandem, and putting several players in place weeks before training camp even starts!
Signed: Goaltenders Taras Lendzyk ( Charlotte ) and Jim Hrivnak Defensemen: Brooke Chateau ( Florida, Charlotte ), and Rocky Wesling ( Northern Michigan, 1994 Ducks draft pick) ) Forwards: Van Burgess and Mike Rucinski ( Florida, Charlotte ) Read more»
The ECHL Prospect Update will be used to spotlight players who have a chance to make an impact at the next level, whether it be the AHL, IHL, or the NHL.
All stats as of 3/2/98
David Van Drunen Team: Baton Rouge Kingfish Pos: Defense
Ht: 6′ Wt: 200 Born: Sherwood Park, Alta 1/31/76
Contract: Ottawa Senators ( signed free agent contract on May 2, 1997 )
David has been described by Kingfish Head Coach Dave Schultz ( yes, “The Hammer” himself ) as “a great young talent that has the potential to become a very good professional”. After being assigned to Baton Rouge on November 7th, Van Drunen has been solid on the blueline. He currently leads the team in the plus/minus catagory with a plus-8. While he has been steady in his own end , he has also chipped in some offense , with 7 goals and 15 assists.
Notes: Played entire junior career with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL….earned a spot on this years ECHL All-Star team….5 games with Hershey of the AHL this season.
Kevin Popp Team: Birmingham Bulls Pos: Defense
Ht: 6′ 2″ Wt: 212 Hometown: Surrey, BC Born: 2/26/76
Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres 119th overall 1995