As the Indy Fuel get ready for their second season, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our potential foes in the ECHL. This week, we’ll look at the two divisions we haven’t yet previewed. The Central Division is made up of four of the seven teams that came over when the ECHL absorbed the now-defunct Central Hockey League. The seven came to the league en masse as a division, but have been split among four divisions. The Central has four teams, including the defending Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans. 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 and get to know our foes.
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (CHL Allen Americans 2009-14)
Last year: 48-14-10, 1st/7 Central Division
Head coach: Steve Martinson (4th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: San Jose Sharks/San Jose Barracuda
Arena: Allen Event Center, Allen, Tx. (capacity 6,200)
Fuel vs. Americans 2014-15: Indy was 1-0-0 against Allen, winning 4-1 on Jan. 23.
2015-16 vs. Fuel: no games scheduled
Of note: Allen is not just looking to repeat its Kelly Cup title, it’s looking to win its fourth straight championship. The Americans also won the final two CHL titles in 2013 and 2014. Head coach Steve Martinson has won the final title both leagues that used the Central Hockey League name – he coached Allen in the 2014 Ray Miron Presidents Cup Final, and played for the Tulsa Oilers (who were renamed the CHL Oilers and became a road-only team at the end of the season), which won the 1984 Adams Cup title in the original CHL. That championship series was played entirely in Indianapolis, with the final game at the Carmel Ice Skadium. The Americans retain much of their nucleus, including top three scorers Chad Costello (41 goals, 125 points), Gary Steffes (73 points) and Gregor Hanson (61 points). Goaltender Riley Gill, who was 33-10-5 last season, is also back.
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (CHL Missouri Mavericks 2009-14)
Last year: 28-35-9, 6th/7 Central Division
Head coach: Richard Matvichuk (2nd season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: New York Islanders/Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Arena: Silverstein Eye Centers Arena, Independence, Mo. (capacity 5,800)
Fuel vs. Mavericks 2014-15: Indy was 1-0-0 against Missouri, winning 5-1 on Oct. 24.
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 6 games: 1 in Indy (Feb. 23) and 5 in Independence (Nov. 27-28, Feb. 12-14)
Of note: Missouri is a familiar place to a lot of the Fuel family, as Fuel coach Scott Hillman was the Mavericks’ head coach for the franchise’s entire run in the CHL before coming to the Fuel last year. Anders Franzon, Josh Brittain, Shane Owen and Garett Bembridge are among the Fuel players who have suited up for Missouri. The Kansas City-area squad picked up a new affiliation with the New York Islanders after playing last season as an independent. Andrew Courtney (36 goals, 58 points in 2014-15) is the top returning scorer.
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (CHL Tulsa Oilers 1992-2014)
Last year: 37-29-6, 4th/7 Central Division
Head coach: Jason Christie (1st season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose
Arena: BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla. (capacity 17,906)
Fuel vs. Oilers 2014-15: no games
2015-16 vs. Fuel: no games
Of note: This franchise is one of two that played the entire 22-year run of the second iteration of the Central Hockey League. It won the first title in the league’s history in 1992-93. Local hockey fans likely remember the Oilers and Indianapolis Ice having some incredible games during the Ice’s five-year run in the CHL, most notably the five-game playoff series in 2000 which the Ice won in a 7-0 Game 5 that set CHL records for penalty minutes. Adam Pleskash (41 goals, 71 points) is the leading returning scorer. The Oilers also acquired Brian Nugent from Cincinnati and Brandon Wong from South Carolina to bolster their attack. Kevin Carr (30-16-4 last season) and Andy Iles form a goaltending tandem.
ECHL member since: 2014-15 (CHL Wichita Thunder 1992-2014)
Last year: 32-31-9, 5th/7 Central Division
Head coach: Kevin McClelland (6th season)
NHL/AHL affiliate: none
Arena: Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita, Kan. (capacity 13,400)
Fuel vs. Thunder 2014-15: no games
2015-16 vs. Fuel: 2 games: 1 in Indy (Jan. 2), 1 in Wichita (Nov. 25)
Of note: The Thunder join Tulsa as the only two franchises that played all 22 seasons of the original CHL. Wichita is the lone team listed on the ECHL website as an independent, although two other teams (Alaska & Colorado) list their affiliations as TBA as we head to the season’s opening week. The Thunder return their top two scorers, Danick Gauthier (29 goals, 68 points) and Ian Lowe (20 goals, 58 points). Kenton Miller, who was in training camp with the Fuel last season, is also a part of the Wichita roster for the second straight season. He had 43 points last year. The Thunder won CHL titles in 1994 and 1995. One of Wichita’s retired numbers belongs to Ron Handy – who played three different stints in Indy – for the Checkers in both the CHL and IHL and the IHL’s Ice, and had a 135-point season with the Checkers.