ORLANDO, FLA – With the month of March just a few days away, there are roughly six weeks left in the 2013-2014 ECHL regular season. What looked to be a runaway for the South Carolina Stingrays atop the Eastern conference has become a dogfight. Then again, so is the rest of the playoff picture.
The point differential from the second place Orlando Solar Bears to the tenth place Evansville IceMen is a mere ten points. With between 18 and 21 games left until the playoffs, a team that can string together four or five wins can jump multiple teams in a single bound.
Here is a look at how the east sets up heading into March 1st by division…
Reading Royals (31-19-1-1, 64 points): The defending Kelly Cup champions currently sit in fourth place in the conference as they look to win the division. Winners of six of their last ten games, the Royals have survived numerous injuries and callus to maintain a steady pace throughout the season.
Reading has won three of its last four games, beating Gwinnett twice and Elmira once. The lone loss was to Greenville. Scoring was pretty well spread throughout the lineup with Josh Brittain, Dominic Monardo, Ryan Cruthers, Brett Flemming and Sean Wiles picking up multiple points. Riley Gill and Brandon Anderson split the four games with Gill suffering the only loss.
This weekend the Royals host conference leading South Carolina on Friday and travel to Wheeling on Saturday.
Wheeling Nailers (27-21-1-5, 60 points): Wheeling is sitting in a tie with the Florida Everblades for the eighth and final playoff spot. An unsettled goaltending position and player callups from Wilkes-Barre Scranton have been the major problems.
Winners of seven out of ten, the Nailers are coming off a solid three win week. They played four games within the division, beating Reading and taking two of three from Elmira. Cody Sylvester netted three goals and four assists during the week while Zack Torquato, Carter Rowney, Denver Manderson and Chaz Johnson all lit the lamp twice in the four contests. Mike Condon picked up two wins in net with Kieran Millan pitching a shutout for the third victory.
Wheeling has a three games in three days weekend coming up, visiting Elmira on Friday before hosting Reading on Saturday and Cincinnati on Sunday.
Elmira Jackals (20-26-2-4, 46 points): Elmira is one of three teams that is on the outside looking at the playoff race. With 46 points, the Jackals are in eleventh place trailing tenth place Evansville by eleven.
The Jackals won only one of their games over the last week, a victory against Wheeling in which Jean Borbeau bagged a hat trick. Elmira scored just four goals besides Borbeau’s triple with Rob Bellamy, Daniel Koger, Danny Hobbs and Ludwig Karlsson doing the honors. Neil Conway was the tough luck loser in net in losses to Wheeling and Elmira, allowing just two goals in each of those matchups.
Like Wheeling, the Jackals face three games in three days with a home game against Wheeling on Friday before South Carolina hits Elmira on Saturday and Sunday.
Kalamazoo Wings (30-17-2-3, 65 points): Kalamazoo has been in a dogfight with Cincinnati for the North division lead and right now has a three point cushion. As far as the conference seedings, the Wings are sitting in third place two points behind Orlando in second and one point ahead of Reading in fourth.
Sporting an 8-1-1-0 mark in their last ten, the Wings have picked up points in each of their last five games (4-0-1-0). Kalamazoo split a pair of games in the past week. On Sunday, they lost a tough 3-2 overtime decision to Orlando before picking up a convincing win against division foe Fort Wayne. Yannick Veilleux and Chris Lawrence each scored a goal in both contests and had an assist while Justin Taylor and Matt Caria had a goal and two helpers apiece. Joel Martin suffered the loss to the Solar Bears while Jordan Binnington stopped 31 of 32 shots to earn the win over the Komets.
The coming weekend should be an interesting one for Kalamazoo as they visit Orlando for a trio of games on Friday, Saturday and Monday.
Cincinnati Cyclones (30-20-1-1, 62 points): A recent bad stretch of just four wins in its last ten games has dropped Cincinnati into second place in the division. Once sitting as high as second in the conference, the Cyclones currently sit in fifth place one point ahead of sixth and two points ahead of eighth place.
The Cyclones hit the road for a quick trip to the south, splitting a pair of games. They were able to beat South Carolina but lost to Greenville. Josh McFadden led the way against the Stingrays with a pair of tallies while Jonathan Hazen had a goal and two assists. Hazen picked up two more assists against the Road Warriors as did Mike Dalhuisen but Greenville had too much offense that night. Joe Howe picked up the win on the trip in net while Rob Madore was the victim in the loss.
Cincinnati has a home and home set with Evansville starting in Evansville on Friday before finishing the weekend at Wheeling on Sunday.
Fort Wayne Komets (25-17-6-5, 61 points): The Komets currently sit in third place in the division and are in the middle of the mix when it comes to the playoff race. Fort Wayne resided in a tie for sixth with Greenville with Florida and Wheeling nipping at their heels.
Fort Wayne has won six of its last ten and picked up at least one point in seven of those ten contests. The Komets swept a pair of games in southwest Florida against the Everblades over the weekend. Kenton Miller scored in each game while Jordon Southorn, Jace Coyle, Matt Carter and Scott Fleming all found the back of the net. They then went home and lost to Kalamazoo as defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin scored the lone goal that night. Goalie Ben Meisner went 2-1 between the pipes.
This weekend brings a pair of contests for the Komets as Greenville visits Fort Wayne on Friday before the Komets head to Evansville on Sunday.
Evansville IceMen (24-18-3-6, 57 points): Evansville is outside the top eight but certainly is within striking distance. Despite being in fourth in the division, the IceMen are a mere three points out of the eighth and final post season spot.
Evansville is only 3-6-0-1 in its past ten games, including going 1-2 on the road this past week. The lone win came at the expense of Greenville when Alex Aleardi and Jacob Johnston each had a goal and an assist. The IceMen then dropped a tough game to South Carolina in a shootout before falling to Gwinnett. Goalie Garrett Bartus made 68 saves in two games but went 1-1 before Mike Clemente stopped 33 in the loss to Gwinnett.
Evansville hosts Cincinnati on Friday in the first of a home and home set before hosting Fort Wayne on Sunday.
Toledo Walleye (16-31-3-1, 36 points): Mired in the basement of the division and the conference, things went from bad to worse when head coach Nick Vitucci resigned on Tuesday.
Last weekend, the Walleye had the unfortunate luck of having to face the red hot Orlando Solar Bears. The Walleye were no match for the Solar Bears on Friday as the visitors hung a 7-3 loss on Toledo. Saturday was a much closer game but despite two goals from Aaron Clarke, Toledo lost 4-3 on a late Orlando score.
The Walleye have a pair of home games this weekend when Greenville comes to town.
South Carolina Stingrays (33-15-2-3, 71 points): The Stingrays have been arguably the best team in the South division and the Eastern conference for so long, it is hard to remember if they were ever in any spot other than first. Things have not been so great of late as the Stingrays are a pedestrian 3-5-1-1 in their last ten games.
Over the past week, South Carolina split four contests, winning two and dropping two. After losing to Cincinnati, the Stingrays put together back-to-back wins over Evansville and Gwinnett before they lost for the first time at home this season to Orlando in overtime. Wayne Simpson, Drew Baker, Jack Downing and Peter Boyd led the scoring parade during the week with multiple goals and points each. Goalie Jeff Jakaitis was lost to an injury, putting the spotlight on Max Strang who picked up two wins and was the tough luck loser against Orlando.
The Stingrays will spend the weekend on the road with games in Reading on Friday and two in Elmira on Saturday and Sunday.
Orlando Solar Bears (32-16-1-2, 67 points): The biggest story right now in the ECHL is what is happening in Orlando. The Solar Bears are red hot, winning ten straight games to vault into second place in both the division and the conference.
Orlando’s week had four wins in it, two against Toledo followed by a pair of overtime thrillers against Kalamazoo and South Carolina. The Solar Bears were led by the last two Sher-Wood Players of the Week in Mickey Lang and Taylor Matson who combined for 15 points. Matson had two game winning goals while Lang had one. Goalie Cody Reichard ran his personal win streak to eight straight to establish a franchise record.
Orlando’s week will have it hosting three games against Kalamazoo before the start of a three week long road trip against Florida on Tuesday.
Greenville Road Warriors (28-20-2-3, 61 points): Playing in arguably the toughest division in the ECHL, Greenville has put itself in the hunt by climbing into a tie for sixth with Fort Wayne. Winning seven of its last ten games and picking up points in eight of ten will do that for a team.
The Road Warriors are coming off a 2-1 week that saw them lose to Evansville before beating Reading and Cincinnati. Andrew Rowe was the big scorer, hitting Reading with a hat trick and tagging on two more goals against Cincinnati. Marc-Olivier Vallerand added a four point week while Josh Nicholls recorded five assists across the three games. Netminder Jason Missiaen posted three 30-plus save outings as he played in all three contests.
Greenville has a tough road trip ahead of it this week with stops in Fort Wayne on Friday and Toledo on Saturday and Sunday.
Florida Everblades (27-18-2-4, 60 points): After being on the heels of the South Carolina Stingrays for much of the first four months of the season, the Everblades have fallen back to fourth in the division and a tie for eighth place in the conference. They are just 4-3-1-2 in their last ten.
Florida hosted Fort Wayne twice last weekend and lost both, one of them in a shootout. Brandon MacLean collected a goal and two assists while Kyle Bonis posted a goal and an assist in the two games. Goalie Trevor Cann left Friday’s game with an injury, handing things over to Connor Knapp who suffered both losses.
The Everblades will spend the weekend in Duluth, Georgia as they play the Gwinnett Gladiators three times.
Gwinnett Gladiators (19-30-2-2, 42 points): The Gladiators are the third of the three teams that have their work cut out for them. They currently sit in last place in the division and twelfth in the conference race.
Gwinnett’s week consisted of two losses to Reading and a loss to South Carolina before picking up a win over Evansville. The big point producers for the week were Bobby Hughes (2 goals, 1 assist), Rob Kwiet (1 goal, 2 assists), Max Legault (3 assists) and Joey Haddad (2 goals). The lone win for a goalie was posted by Andrew Loewen who was on a callup from Columbus in the SPHL.
The Gladiators have a chance to do some playoff hopes spoiling as they host Florida for a trio of games this weekend.
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