There's no "I" in East Coast Hockey League, but there now is plenty of International Hockey League in the ECHL.
And you don't have to search far to see the full effect of the IHL's demise on the ECHL.
There is IHL coach of the year Peter Horachek, now with the Trenton Titans after leading the Orlando Solar Bears to the final Turner Cup championship.
There is Wes Mason, Orlando's leader in playoff scoring, back in the ECHL with the Augusta Lynx.
There's Greg Pankewicz, who tallied 44 goals for the Houston Aeros the past two seasons and had a 42-goal season with Manitoba just four years ago, with the Pensacola Ice Pilots.
As many as 60 to 80 players who spent time in the IHL last year will show up in the ECHL, which grew from 25 to 29 teams for this season.
Here's a look at how the new-look ECHL shapes up in 2001-02. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish. The top 10 teams from the Southern Conference (top five in each division) and top eight from the Northern Conference qualify for the playoffs.
1. Florida Everblades
2000-01 record: 38-26-8 (second in Southeast)
Playoffs: Lost in first round
Coach: Gerry Fleming, first year
Key returning players:: C Tom Buckley (27-53-80); LW Matt Demarski (30-33-63); LW Andy McIntrye (28-30-58)
Key additions: D Alex Godynyuk; D Duane Harmer (3-21-24 with Greensboro)
Worth noting: Two-time ECHL coach of the year Bob Ferguson resigned in June and was replaced by Fleming, who guided Tallahassee to 38 wins before the Tiger Sharks were stripped of a playoff spot because of salary cap violations. ... Godynyuk is a veteran of 223 NHL games who played the past three seasons in Europe. ... Has affiliation with NHL Carolina and a new agreement with Florida this season.
Outlook: High-scoring Blades have enough to win it all, but goaltending from NHL parent clubs, which failed them last season, must deliver.
2. Augusta Lynx
2000-01 record: 36-29-7 (fourth in Southeast)
Playoffs: Lost in Wild Card
Coach: Jim Burton, second year
Key returning players:: G Judd Lambert (10-6-1, 2.79 GAA); LW Scott Morrow (33-53-86); D Wes Swinson (10-37-47, 186 PIMs)
Key additions: C Guy Larose (13-22-35 IHL Chicago); D David Wilkie (8-11-19 IHL Houston); F Wes Mason (13-14-27, 45 games with IHL Orlando); RW Tyler Willis (14-18-32, 251 PIMs with Peoria); D Trevor Gillies (303 PIMs with Greensboro)
Worth noting: GM Paul Gamsby resigned in June to join the Richmond Renegades, and Augusta promoted assistant GM Mike Pierson. ... Burton cleans house, revamping the club with veteran players while letting go five of the team's six leading scorers from last season. Second-leading scorer Paul Vincent was released 10 days before camp to clear a veteran spot and cap room for Larose, who has 892 games' pro experience. ... Wilkie played one NHL game for New York Rangers last season. ... Mason led IHL champ Orlando in playoff scoring last season.
Outlook: The league is abuzz about the job Burton did upgrading through trades and signings of big-name IHL free agents. Several coaches are picking the Lynx to win the Kelly Cup. If they find some scoring, they just might.
3. South Carolina Stingrays
2000-01 record: 42-23-7 (first in Southeast)
Playoffs: Kelly Cup champs
Coach: Rick Adduono, fourth year
Key returning players:: C Adam Calder (28-44-72); RW Brett Marietti (22-40-62); C Dave Seitz (14-43-57); G Jody Lehman (16-10-4, 2.78 GAA)
Key additions: D Brad Williamson (IHL Houston); D Paul Traynor (AHL Rochester)
Worth noting:: The Stingrays will have at least 12 players back from last year's championship team. ... The club again is affiliated with the NHL's Buffalo Sabres. ... Perennial all-star defenseman Brad Dexter retired after winning his second Kelly Cup with the Rays last season. ... Rumors began circulating during the summer that Stingrays owners are are considering moving the team to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Outlook: The champs will be a contender again. While some of their division rivals made significant upgrades, the Rays basically kept things status quo, and they no doubt will slip in the standings.
4. Greenville Grrrowl
2000-01 record: 34-33-5 (fifth in Southeast)
Coach: John Marks, fourth year
Key returning players:: C Sean Venedam (15-22-37, 51 games); LW Martin Masa (15-26-41, 56 games); RW Kelly Harper (6-11-17, 16 games)
Key additions: C Jerry Gernander (University of Vermont); D Jim Gernander (University of Vermont); D Mark Thompson (IHL Detroit)
Worth noting::: The Grrrowl renewed its NHL affiliations with the Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins. ... Marks picked up two sets of twins - the Gernanders, and Shawn and Wes Scanzano (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL). ... Venedam, the league's third-leading scorer two years ago, missed 21 games last season with a finger injury. ... Harper, a former all-star, missed most of last season with post-concussion syndrome.
Outlook: The pressure and high expectations from last season are long gone, and now the Grrrowl hope its returning players can get back to business and make a return to the playoffs.
5. Pee Dee Pride
2000-01 record: 38-28-6 (third in Southeast)
Playoffs: Second round
Coach: Davis Payne, second year
Key returning players:: C Dany Bousquet (39-45-84, 56 games); LW Eric Naud (13-21-34, 204 PIMs); LW Allan Sirois (26-37-63); G Sandy Allan (19-18-5, 3.15)
Key additions: RW Joel Irwin (23-41-64 with Greensboro); F Gregor Krajnc (Miami-Ohio University)
Worth noting: Former Lynx goalie J.R. Prestifilippo, who turned his season around with the Pride last year, will be back for a second year with the Pride as the backup to Allan. ... Payne took over as coach at midseason last year after Frank Anzalone was fired. ... Pride owners denied rumors this summer that this will be the team's final season in Florence, S.C. ... Longtime broadcaster Jamie Smock left in September to take similar job with AHL Cleveland.
Outlook: Pee Dee always takes pride in its strong special teams and team defense, which will always render the club a threat, especially in its own building.
6. Columbia Inferno
First year (expansion)
Coach: Scott White, first year
Key players: D Dennis Vial (British Superleague); C Rejean Stringer (20-43-63 with WCHL Fresno); F Jeff Dewar (5-11-16, St. Thomas University); G Martin Villeneuve (28-6-3, 2.68 GAA with UHL Quad City)
Worth noting:: White, who was hired as Inferno coach in December 1999, previously was an assistant to coach Jeff Brubaker with Greensboro. ... The Inferno will play at Carolina Coliseum until construction on a new arena is complete. ... The club will rely heavily on its NHL affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks.
Outlook: White has assembled a solid mix of young players and vets, and the Inferno will surprise some people in their ECHL debut season.
7. Columbus Cottonmouths
First year in ECHL
Coach: Bruce Garber, sixth year
Key players: D Paul Buczkowski (21-33-54 with CHL San Antonio); LW Jerome Bechard (10-18-28 with CHL Columbus); RW Nick Lent (UHL New Haven)
Worth noting:: The Cottonmouths played in the Central Hockey League before joining the ECHL this season. ... The franchise is the former Hampton Roads Admirals. ... The team is affiliated with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers the and AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, and has a secondary affiliation with AHL Norfolk. ... Former Tallahassee GM Larry Kish, who was at the center of the Tiger Sharks' salary cap violations last season, is Columbus' director of player personnel. .. Garber coached the CHL Cottonmouths the past five seasons, posting a .648 winning percentage while winning a championship.
Outlook: Several quality players are expected to be assigned from Hamilton, but the Cottonmouths are in for a rough go in their first ECHL season.
8. Macon Whoopee
First year in ECHL
Coach: Gord Dineen, first year
Key players: G Alex Westlund (19-5-4, 2.22 GAA with Dayton); LW Travis Brigley (14-21-35 with AHL Louisville); LW Kenzie Homer (4-13-17, 161 PIMs with UHL New Haven); D Rick Emmett (UHL Quad City); F Tyler Prosofsky (21-28-49 UHL Asheville)
Worth noting:: Dineen, who spent 13 years as an NHL defenseman with the New York Islanders, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, makes his debut as a head coach. He won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991. ... Dineen has five family members with NHL connections - including father, Bill, a longtime NHL coach, won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 1954. ... The Whoopee joins the ECHL after playing in the Central League. Franchise is the former Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. ... Affiliated with the Florida Panthers.
Outlook: Another season, another reason for Macon Whoopee? Not likely in their first season in the ECHL, though this will be a physical, defensive-minded club that manages to stay close most nights with Westlund in net.
1. New Orleans Brass
2000-01 record: 35-25-12 (fourth in Southwest)
Playoffs: First round
Coach: Ted Sator, fifth year
Key returning players:: C Adam Edinger (31-45-76); C Sylvain Deschatelets (25-33-58); D Steve Cheredaryk (219 PIMs); G Ron Vogel (17-7-3, 2.43 GAA)
Key additions: RW Samuel St. Pierre (IHL Detroit); C David Cameron (WHL); LW Aaron Goldade (WHL)
Worth noting:: Edinger was the top rookie scorer in the ECHL last season but somehow was left off the all-rookie team. ... Vogel led the league in save percentage as a rookie last season (.933). ... Eight of nine rookies from last year's club are returning. ... Former Mobile goalie Steve Debus is penciled in as Vogel's backup. ... Sator formerly coached the NHL's New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres. ... The Brass eliminated the Lynx in the Southern Conference Wild Card last season.
Outlook: The youth from a year ago comes of age. Sator mixes in a few IHL and AHL vets, and the Brass ride Vogel's shoulders to a run at a Kelly Cup title.
2. Louisiana IceGators
2000-01 record: 42-24-6 (first in Southwest)
Playoffs: Conference finals
Coach: Dave Farrish, second year
Key returning players:: RW Jay Murphy (32-32-64, plus-32); D Chris Valicevic (13-41-54, plus-20); C Shawn McNeil (36-45-81, plus-22)
Key additions:C Russell Hewson (University of Alberta); D Kevin Mitchell (OHL)
Worth noting: The IceGators and leading scorer John Spoltore parted ways this off-season, and Spoltore is still negotiating with clubs in the AHL and ECHL. ... Farrish added the title of vice president of hockey operations during the summer. ... Long an independent club, the Gators struck an affiliation agreement with the NHL's Minnesota Wild and AHL Houston Aeros for the 2001-02 season.
Outlook: The Gators get a little younger this season but still have enough to make a run at a division title. Their success is riding on goaltending help from Minnesota.
3. Pensacola Ice Pilots
2000-01 record: 27-40-5 (ninth in Southwest)
Coach: Todd Gordon, first year
Key returning players:: RW John Tripp (19-14-33)
Key additions: RW/C Louis Dumont (25-47-72, 60 games with Lynx); LW Dean Tiltgen (30-38-68 with Lynx); C Greg Pankewicz (IHL Houston); D Derek Eberle (British Superleague)
Worth noting:: Boston Bruins legend Wayne Cashman resigned as coach after just one season, and the club hired Gordon, who last coached the Toledo Storm in 1999-2000. ... The club features former Lynx players Dumont and Tiltgen, who were acquired by Pensacola in separate trades. ... Pankewicz has NHL experience and is a potential 40-goal scorer. ... The Pilots are affiliated with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Outlook: Revamped Pensacola switches off auto-Pilot with a new coach and veteran talent and enjoys one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in league history.
4. Mississippi Sea Wolves
2000-01 record: 34-33-5 (seventh in Southwest)
Coach: Bob Woods, first year
Key returning players:: C Dave Paradise (24-30-54); G Chuck Thuss (15-16-2, 2.93 GAA); D Patrick Rochon (4-21-25)
Key additions: C Jeff Bes (35-65-100 with Jackson and Pensacola); RW Steffon Walby (12-21-33 with AHL Hershey)
Worth noting:: Woods, who set the ECHL record for games played in a career last season, retired to become the Wolves head coach. ... Al Pedersen resigned after one year as Mississippi's coach to become coach of Colorado in the WCHL. ... The biggest move of the off-season was the signing of free-agent Bes, who was second in the ECHL in scoring last season. ... The Wolves are affiliated with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens.
Outlook: Plenty of offense for Woods in his coaching debut should send the Sea Wolves back to the playoffs after a rough go in 2000-01.
5. Jackson Bandits
2000-01 record: 39-24-9 (second in Southwest)
Playoffs: First round
Coach: Derek Clancey, second year
Key returning players:: RW Bobby Russell (38-30-68); D Ryan Gillis (2-20-22); G Mike Tamburro (26-15-5, 2.66 GAA)
Key additions: F Dennis Maxwell (244 PIMs in 62 games with Charlotte and Birmingham); RW Chris Longo (8-12-20 with IHL Cleveland)
Worth noting:: Tamburro was 10th in the ECHL in goals-against average. ... The Bandits failed to retain Jeff Bes, the league's second-leading scorer who headed to division rival Mississippi. ... The club is entering the second season as an affiliate of the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks and AHL Norfolk Admirals.
Outlook: The defensive-minded Bandits will possess one of the toughest clubs in the Southwest, and should earn a second straight trip to the playoffs thanks to the handiwork of Tamburro in net.
6. Arkansas RiverBlades
2000-01 record: 34-24-14 (fifth in Southwest)
Playoffs: First round
Coach: Chris Cichocki, second year
Key returning players:: G Jeff Salajko (24-13-8, 2.79 GAA); D Eric Long
(8-41-49); F Jason Bermingham (21-34-55); F Dan Heilman (15-23-38; D Dean
Key additions: C Jamey Hicks (34-50-84 with Birmingham); F Kris Cantu (20-24-44 with CHL Columbus); F James Desmarais (25-39-64 with AHL Springfield
and UHL B.C.)
Worth noting:: The RiverBlades also will have competition in Little Rock with the amateur Gulf Coast Hockey League playing at Barton Coliseum, former home of the WPHL's Arkansas GlacierCats. ... The RiverBlades are rumored to have sold less than 700 season tickets for the 2001-02 season. ... Many in hockey circles believe this could be their final season.
Outlook: The Blades took a big step forward in their second ECHL season last year, but take a bigger step back in 2001-02, despite one of the premier goalies in the league in Salajko.
7. Mobile Mysticks
2000-01 record: 38-28-6 (third in Southwest)
Playoffs: Second round
Coach: Jeff Pyle, fourth year
Key returning players:: LW Jason Elders (36-41-77); RW Hugues Gervais (32-19-51, 196 PIMs); D Dave Van Drunnen (2-18-20, plus-25); RW B.J. Kilbourne (15-35-50); G Greg Hewitt
Key additions: C Bryan Richardson (17-30-47 for London of British Superleague); D Brady Austin (Swift Current, WHL)
Worth noting: Hewitt, who signed with the Mysticks late last season out of St. Thomas University, started five playoff games for Mobile last year and is an early front-runner for ECHL rookie of the year honors. ... Richardson played three seasons with Baton Rouge before heading to Europe last year. ... Mysticks are an affiliate of NHL's Ottawa Senators.
Outlook: The franchise now is on solid ground in Mobile after the club nearly was forced to move of fold after last season, but the young Mysticks will have a rough time in the rough-and-tumble Southwest this season.
8. Baton Rouge Kingfish
2000-01 record: 35-26-11 (sixth in Southwest)
Playoffs: Wild card
Coach: David Lohrei, second year
Key returning players: D Dane Litke (10-33-43, plus-24); D Josh Mizerek (11-18-29); RW Shane Calder (21-44-65); LW Cam Brown (18-28-46); G Paxton Schafer (21-10-9, 3.04 GAA)
Key additions: C Bill McDougall (16-22-38 in Germany); D Chris LiPuma (2-5-7 IHL Chicago); F Andreas Hallberg (Sweden); D Terry Marchant (IHL Houston).
Worth noting: McDougall, 35, scored 80 goals for the ECHL's Erie Panthers in 1989-90 and was named the league's MVP. The 80 goals is second most in league history. He spent the past five seasons in Europe and played 22 games for NHL Tampa Bay in 1993-94. ... LiPuma has played 531 pro games, including 72 NHL games with Tampa Bay and San Jose.
Outlook: The most boring team in the ECHL thanks to Lohrei's neutral-zone trap will trap itself in the Southwest Division basement this season, unless McDougall rediscovers some of his old magic.
League key: OHL-Ontario Hockey League (major junior); QMJHL-Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; WHL-Western Hockey League (major junior); AHL-American Hockey League; IHL-International Hockey League; UHL-United Hockey League; WCHL-West Coast Hockey League; CHL-Central Hockey League; NHL-National Hockey League.
Stats key: Offensive stats in parentheses are goals-assists-total points; GAA-goals-against average.
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