ECHL 2022-23 Season in Review: Kalamazoo Wings

The Kalamazoo Wings entered the 2022-23 season with the goal of getting back to the Kelly Cup playoffs for the first time since 2018-19. However, it was not to be, as the team finished fifth place in the Central Division with a record of 29-37-6-0. The K-Wings serve as the ECHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, part of a development system that also includes the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.

Given their position in Columbus’s development ladder, Kalamazoo’s lineup was very fluid, with 14 players spending time in the AHL during the season to get experience at a higher level or as injury call-ups. This level of movement made it a challenge for the team to develop the chemistry needed to be successful on the ice. Despite these challenges, the K-Wings did show flashes of offense during the season but lacked consistency. Overall, the team struggled offensively, scoring only 178 goals for the season (an average of 2.47 per game), the lowest in the ECHL. Defensively, the K-Wings gave up 226 goals (3.13 goals against per game), which ranked fourth out of the seven-team Central Division. Special teams were also challenging, as the power play was 17% (46/261), and the penalty kill was only 78.5% (205/261).

Veteran Justin Taylor led the team in scoring with 41 points and also managed to notch his 10th season of 20+ goals (20-21-41) in the ECHL. Ten of those goals came on the power play, and he led the team in that category as well. Justin Murray with the leading scorer among defensemen with 35 points (5-30-35), which also tied him with Brandon Saigeon for second overall in team scoring. Robert Calisti was the top goal scorer on the blueline with 12 to go along with 20 assists.

Hunter Vorva and Evan Cormier handled the bulk of the goaltending duties and were solid most of the season to keep the team competitive. Kalamazoo native Vorva appeared in 28 games and finished with a record of 13-9-2-0-1, including a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.61, a .92% save percentage, and one shutout. Cormier played 35 games with a record of 10-20-3-0-0, a 3.19 GAA, a .908% save percentage, and one shutout. He was named ECHL goaltender of the week for October 24-30, 2022. Both goalies had stints in the AHL throughout the season as well. Rookie Pavel Cajan saw action in 12 games and showed promise, going 6-6 with a 2.34 GAA and a .932% save percentage. This included being named ECHL goaltender of the week for December 5-11, 2022.

Other highlights for the season:

In October, Joel Martin and Cincinnati’s Jason Payne became the first head coaches of color to face each other in an ECHL game. Martin is a former goaltender with the K-Wings who is in the ECHL Hall of Fame as a player who was an assistant coach and goaltending coach in Kalamazoo prior to assuming the head coaching duties.

Justin Taylor became the K-Wing’s all-time leading scorer in January, passing Kalamazoo legend Kevin Schamehorn. Chad Nychuk represented the K-Wings in the ECHL All-Star Game.

Both the “Pink Ice” and “Green Ice” games were sellouts, continuing a tradition for these events. The average home attendance of 3,537 was the highest since the 1997-98 season. Despite not making the playoffs, the K-Wings continue attracting a loyal fan base, many of whom have followed the team since their early days in the old International Hockey League (IHL). Hopefully, the team will make some off-season moves that will propel the team into the post-season in 2023-24.

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