As the Indy Fuel get ready for their second season, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our potential foes in the ECHL. Today, we move to the Fuel’s conference, the Western Conference. Three of the five teams in the West Division will come to the Indiana Farmers Coliseum this season – Alaska, Rapid City and Utah – and Colorado is a familiar face from the Ice’s days in the Central Hockey League. With the ECHL’s new conference-based playoff system, every team in the Western Conference is a potential playoff foe for each other, so it’s important to greet our foes.
ECHL member since: 2003-04 (WCHL Anchorage Aces 1995-2003. Franchise also existed in semipro Pacific Coast and Pacific Hockey Leagues from 1988-1995)
Last year: 35-30-7, 5th/7 Pacific Division
Head coach: Rob Murray (5th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: TBA
Arena: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Ak. (capacity 6,000)
Fuel vs. Aces 2014-15: no meetings
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 2 games at Indy (Nov. 13-14)
Of note: Despite being the league’s most far-flung member, the Aces have been a model franchise. The Aces won the Kelly Cup in 2006, 2011 and 2014, but missed the playoffs in the tough Pacific Division last year. Tim Coffman (40 points) is one of the top returning scorers. Former Fuel player Dean Chelios is also on the Aces’ preseason roster. The NHL affiliate is listed as TBA. Last year, the Aces were affiliated with the Minnesota Wild (now with Quad City) and St. Louis Blues (currently without an announced ECHL affiliate).
ECHL member since: 2011-12 (2003-11 in Central Hockey League)
Last year: 41-23-8, 3rd/7 Pacific Division
Head coach: Chris Stewart (11th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: TBA
Arena: Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, Colo. (capacity 5,289)
Fuel vs. Eagles 2014-15: no meetings
2015-16 vs. Fuel: no meetings
Of note: The Fuel and Eagles will not play each other for the second consecutive year. This franchise began its life in the old Central Hockey League – one of 10 current ECHL franchises that have, at one time, been in the CHL. Colorado won the CHL title twice, in 2005 and 2007. Chris Stewart is in his second stint as the Eagles’ coach, and led them to both of their championships. Trent Daavettela had 69 points last season to lead the Eagles, and he is back for this season. Also on the roster is Tyler Bunz, who played for the Edmonton Oilers last season. Like Alaska, Colorado’s NHL affiliate is TBA. Last year, the Eagles were affiliated with the Calgary Flames, but the Flames moved their affiliation to the Adirondack Thunder, a team the Flames purchased during the middle of last season and moved to upstate New York.
ECHL member since: 2003-04 (began in 1997-98 in West Coast Hockey League)
Last year: 48-18-6, 1st/7 Pacific Division
Head coach: Neil Graham (1st season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Dallas Stars/Texas Stars
Arena: CenturyLink Arena, Boise, Idaho (capacity 5,006)
Fuel vs. Steelheads 2014-15: no meetings
2015-16 vs. Fuel: no meetings
Of note: The Fuel and Steelheads will also not meet for the second straight year. Idaho was the top team in the Pacific Division last season, but was upset by Ontario in the first round of the playoffs. Jefferson Dahl is one of the returning players (34 points last season). New head coach Neil Graham was an assistant to Brad Ralph last season. Ralph moved on to the Western Hockey League to coach the Kelowna Rockets. Idaho started out in the old West Coast Hockey League, joined the ECHL when it absorbed the WCHL in 2003, and won the Kelly Cup in the first year. They also won the Kelly Cup in 2007.
Rapid City Rush
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (began in 2008-09 in Central Hockey League)
Last year: 37-28-7, 3rd/7 Central Division
Head coach: Joe Ferras (8th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Arizona Coyotes/Springfield Falcons
Arena: Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Rapid City, SD (capacity 5,119)
Fuel vs. Rush 2014-15: no meetings
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 1 game in Indy (Jan. 15)
Of note: The Fuel and Rush play each other this January, which will be the first meeting between the two franchises. The Fuel have gained players Dylan Clarke and Kyle Stroh from Rapid City – one via free agent signing, one via trade. Winston Day Chief (35 points last year) is the Rush’s top returning scorer. Rapid City was one of seven former CHL teams who joined the ECHL right before the start of the 2014-15 season, and won a playoff round last year before falling to eventual Kelly Cup champion Allen in the second round. The Rush are one of three of last year’s CHL expansion teams to move divisions, joining Brampton (North) and Quad City (Midwest).
ECHL member since: 2005-06 (franchise began as Nashville South Stars of the original CHL in 1981, moved to ACHL as Virginia Lancers in 1983, joined ECHL in 1987 as an original franchise, played in Roanoke Valley 1990-93, Huntsville Blast 1993-94, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks 1994-2001, Macon Whoopee 2001-02, Lexington Men O’War 2002-03, DNP 2003-05. The Grizzlies franchise inherited the name and history/arena from the Utah Grizzlies, who began in 1994-95 as the IHL’s Denver Grizzlies, and played from 1995-2005 as the Utah Grizzlies, through 2001 in the IHL, and from 2001-05 in the AHL. That franchise is now the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters).
Head coach: Tim Branham (3rd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls
Arena: Maverik Center, West Valley City, Utah (capacity 10,207)
Fuel vs. Grizzlies 2014-15: no meetings
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 1 game in Indy (March 4).
Of note: The Grizzlies have an interesting history – the name and roster date back to the old International Hockey League, where the franchise won the Turner Cup in 1995 and 1996. The current franchise is an original ECHL team that has had a number of different homes (and predates the ECHL by six years) and was purchased by the Grizzlies’ owners to replace the original Grizzlies – which suspended operations after four seasons in the AHL in 2005. A few familiar faces are on the Grizzlies’ roster. Brent Gwidt captained the 2009 Indiana Ice Clark Cup championship team, and goaltender Eric Levine played a couple of games with the Fuel last fall. Former Ice players Corey Fienhage and T.J. Syner also play for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies return leading scorer Mathieu Albin (68 points).