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ECHL News & Notes

In the year of the compressed offseason, we are rapidly approaching another mile marker…qualifying offers

ECHL News & Notes

WICHITA, Kan. – In the year of the compressed offseason, we are rapidly approaching another mile marker…qualifying offers, which means it’s likely to be a busy week of player signings and announcements in the ECHL.

But, before we cross that bridge, last week was a relatively quiet one in the ECHL, but some noteworthy items came across our desk.

Let’s get into it!

More Affiliation News

As we alluded to last week, there has been more movement in the ECHL player affiliation ranks. The latest came just as we were writing this piece on Wednesday afternoon when the Columbus Blue Jackets announced they would be paired up with the Kalamazoo Wings this coming season.

What’s old is new again, since the two clubs worked together from 2014-16.

“We are thrilled to partner once again with the Kalamazoo Wings as they operate as our ECHL affiliate,” said Blue Jackets Director of Player Personnel Chris Clark. “We look forward to seeing the development of some of the young players in our system, both on and off the ice, while working with Head Coach Nick Bootland, his coaching staff and the entire K-Wings organization.”

The K-Wings had previously been affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks, but they moved their AHL affiliate to Abbottsford, B.C., and there is no word on who the Canucks’ new ECHL affiliate will be or if they will even have one.

Elsewhere, the Idaho Steelheads and Dallas Stars will continue one of the longest and most successful player affiliations in minor league hockey, announcing a two-year extension to their agreement last week. The partnership between the two clubs began back in 2005.

“We are pleased to renew our affiliation with the Steelheads for the next two seasons,” said Dallas Stars Assistant General Manager and Texas Stars General Manager Scott White. “As evidenced by their continued success, the Steelheads organization, under the guidance of Head Coach Everett Sheen, is committed to fostering the development of its players, and we couldn’t be happier to extend our long-standing partnership with them.”

The Stars/Steelheads partnership has been a fruitful one for both sides. Eleven players have gone from Idaho to the NHL, with two coaches, Derek Laxdal and Neil Graham, each earning promotions.

Finally, the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off their week by announcing a two-year extension of their ECHL affiliation with the Orlando Solar Bears.

“We are extremely grateful for our affiliation with the Solar Bears,” Lightning General Manager Julian BriseBois said. “Chris Heller, Drake Berehowsky and the entire organization provide a world class environment for our players to develop in a winning culture while also growing the game in the Sunshine State. The Lightning look forward to continuing our relationship with the Solar Bears for another two years.”

Since the move in player affiliations, the Solar Bears have made the playoffs each of the last two years, with Orlando has posted a 104-83-16-3 (.551) record.

There is still at least one ECHL team that has yet to announce a player affiliation, so more moves are still to come. I would expect to hear about additional player affiliations in the days after the NHL Draft.

Slowly Moving Coaching Carousel

The once-stalled coaching carousel picked up some steam this past week with a pair of announcements.

I’ll get there in a moment, but first some stability. Former Fayetteville Marksmen head coach, Jesse Kallechy, will remain on the Everblades bench with head coach Brad Ralph for at least three more seasons. Prior to joining the Everblades, Kallechy led the Marksmen to one of the biggest season-over-season turnarounds in SPHL history, earned the SPHL Coach of the Year award in 2019-20, and won a President’s Cup championship with the Huntsville Havoc as an assistant coach in 2018. During his tenure in central North Carolina, the former netminder had 25 players called up to the ECHL.

“Jesse is deserving of an extension. He did an incredible job his first year with us, under some of the most difficult situations imaginable,” Ralph said. “He’s a bright hard working young coach that will only continue to get better.”

The 2020-21 season was his first behind the ‘Blades bench, where he helped Ralph steer the team to a Brabham Cup title.

Now to the tumult.

On top of all the issues facing the Newfoundland Growlers currently (more on that in another piece soon,) they now have to find new head and assistant coaches. Over the weekend, the Toronto Marlies announced Kelly Cup-winning head coach John Snowden has earned a promotion to the Marlies bench.

He takes the place of Rob Davidson, who mutually decided to part ways with the club at the end of last season. Davidson served on the special teams’ side of the bench, highlighting powerplays and defense in his time with the club. Davidson spent three seasons with the Marlies and was at the end of his contract.

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Flyers announced they have hired Darryl Williams as an assistant coach, reuniting with head coach Alain Vigneault.

“Darryl has experience at every level and I am confident that he will fit seamlessly into our coaching staff,” Vigneault said. “There is a high level of familiarity having worked with Darryl for several years and I know what he is capable of to help bring success to our group.”

The two worked together for nine seasons in Vancouver and New York, before Williams moved to Newfoundland to work with the Growlers, helping the club win a Kelly Cup in their first season.

Finally, the Indy Fuel announced that assistant coach Andy Contois has been named Associate Head Coach of the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms.

Contois joined the Fuel prior to the 2019-20 season where he made his professional coaching debut after spending four seasons coaching at the junior level. Putting together a record of 67-50-10-2 behind the Fuel bench, Contois returns to the USHL where he spent two seasons as assistant coach of the Central Illinois Flying Aces.

“Andy has been a huge part of our success and leaves big shoes to fill,” said Head Coach Doug Christiansen. “We are excited for him to have a new opportunity and wish him well in Youngstown.”

Contois won a Central Hockey League championship with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in 2007.

Pace of Signings Beginning to Quicken

Free agency has been open for close to two weeks, and so far, there have been quite a few signings, primarily among teams who did not play in 2020-21. It is expected once the qualifying offer list is released by the league, we’ll start to see the pace of signings pick up.

Find the most complete list of player signings, hit up our Transactions page: https://fieldpasshockey.com/2021-echl-transactions/.

Jumping the Pond

While not the volume we saw one week ago, there were still some notable players who have signed overseas for the upcoming season. Without a doubt, more will be announced as players and their agents continue to iron out plans for the 2021-22 season.

Date Player ECHL Team European Team
July 15 Phil Marinaccio Kansas City Mavericks Chamonix
July 15 Braylon Shmyr Utah Grizzlies Amiens
July 19 Brett Supinski South Carolina Stingrays Vasterviks IK
July 21 Justin Hamonic Tulsa Oilers Coventry Blaze

We’ll update this list, and article, again next week. Have a great week and thanks for checking us out!

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Matthew Harding is the Managing Editor for Field Pass Hockey, covers the ECHL and the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHThunder.

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