It’s that time of year, folks, as with less than a month remaining in the ECHL regular season, the playoff races are starting to take shape across the league, and in the North Divison, So far only one team in the Divison has punched their ticket to the Kelly Cup Playoffs, and that is the Newfoundland Growlers, who currently sit at the top of the North Divison with a record of 43-19-2 and are 10 points behind the Reading Royals, who currently sit in second place in the division. The Adirondack Thunder swept a three-game series with the Worcester Railers last week as those two teams have been battling for the fourth and final spot in the North as the Thunder now sit only one three points back of the Thunder with two games in hand. The Reading Royals and Maine Mariners currently hold the second and third spots, respectively, and those two teams will likely meet in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Let’s break down each team and their remaining games.
This year four out of the five playoff teams in the North have a head coach in their first year; Pete MacArthur(ADK), James Henry (Reading), Jordan Smotherman (WOR), and Terrance Wallin (MNE). All four coaches have played in the ECHL.
Newfoundland Growlers (1st Place, 43-19-2)
Are we even surprised with the Growlers, every year Newfoundland seems to always be at the top of the North Divison as they tend to get a lot of players on AHL deals with the Toronto Marlies, and this year is no different as they find themselves in their usual position? Lead scorer Zach O’Brien also had a pair of assists and set the Growlers’ single-season record for points-making history with his 79th, which is third in the ECHL, and eight more games remaining before the playoffs start, that number could rise. This year the Toronto Maple Leafs have had their fair share of injuries between the pipes, which has affected the Growlers as Keith Petruzzeli, who was the go-to guy for the Growlers between the pipes last season and has only seen seven games this season with the Growlers. Luke Cavallin and Dryden McKay have split time in the Growlers net this season, with Cavallin having the better numbers as he’s 21-8-1-1 with a 2.57 GAA and .916 save percentage and a shutout.
Records have been set by the Growlers all season. Following Captain James Melindy’s 2-minute interference penalty in a recent game against Adirondack, Melindy recorded his 500th regular season PIMs as a Growler (in 178 GP.) The captain also recorded his 1000th ECHL penalty minute earlier this season.
The Growlers numbers have had a ton of success at home this season as they are 24-8-1 at home and lead the league with 28.3% on the PP at Mary Brown Centre. However, their penalty kill at home is the complete opposite, as they are 26th in the league at 77.4%. They are fourth overall in the league on the PP at 23.5% and 13th on the PK at 80.7%. Newfoundland is 19-11-1 on the road as their PK numbers are much better than at home; they are 5th on the road on the kill at 84.1% and are 16th on the road on the PP at 19.1%, despite who they play in the first round, whether Adirondack or Worcester, it will be a tough match as they are 5-4-4-1 vs. Adirondack and 6-5-1 vs. the Railers. Newfoundland has eight games left on their schedule, three vs. Norfolk Admirals, three vs. Trois-Rivieres Lions, and finish the season with two games in Reading vs. the Royals.
Reading Royals (2nd Place, 37-22-4, 78 points)
So far this season, the Royals have played a total of 63 games with a 37-22 record making their win percentage 58.70%. They have scored 228 goals with 184 goals against, ten of which are short-handed. The team has faced eight overtime, splitting the outcomes in half with four wins and four losses. So far, the Royals have not faced a shootout, which is uncommon for this team, especially this late in the season. The Royals’ biggest struggle this season is their power play, scoring in only 20% of their 235 power play opportunities with just 48 goals scored. However, the story is in reverse regarding their penalty kill. Reading has faced 237 penalty kill opportunities this season, killing off 194 of them, giving the team an 82% on the penalty kill this season. Keeping with high marks from this season, the Royals have three players, in particular, to focus on top scorer Charlie Gerard, Max Newton, and Jacob Gaucher. Gerard has played 54 games with the Royals this season, splitting some of his time with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL. So far, he has earned himself 66 total points with the Royals with 31 goals and 35 assists, making his points per game 1.22. Max Newton, the second top scorer for the Royals, has played four more goals than Gerard, with a total of 58 games scoring 27 goals and earning 34 assists for 61. His points per game average at around 1.05, and he has become a big favorite for Royals fans. Reading’s third top scorer, Jacob Gaucher, has made quite the presence for the team as the season progressed. Gaucher has appeared in all but one of Reading’s games this season, earning 52 points that extends from his 19 goals and 33 assists. He averages 0.84 points per game and has strived since the start of the season for the Royals. With just nine games to go, the Royals continue to push for their spot in the 2023 Kelly Cup playoffs to pay homage to their Kelly Cup win exactly ten years ago.
The Royals can punch their ticket to the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Wednesday with a win in regulation or an overtime/shootout loss and a Worcester loss in regulation.
Maine Mariners (3rd Place, 36-24-2-1, 75 Points)
The Maine Mariners got back on track last week as they picked up six of a possible eight points, which they desperately needed to get back on track after losing seven of their eight previous games, as they now sit in third place in the North. The Mariners got on a roll in the middle of December for about a month, where they had a 14-game point streak, and it has helped them hold onto a playoff race despite some struggles. The Milestones for the Mariners have been racking up this season as Nick Master broke the franchise record as he skated in 300 career games; Tim Doherty has picked up 60 points this season and 43 assists, which are both franchise records for a single season and Alex Kile has 71 assists which is a franchise record. The Milestones for the Mariners have been racking up this season as Nick Master broke the franchise record as he skated in 300 career games; Tim Doherty has picked up 60 points this season and 43 assists, which are both franchise records for a single season and Alex Kile has 71 assists which is a franchise record. Maine has also been great away from the Pine Tree State as they are 22-10-2 on the road this season, and as you would expect, they are sixth in the league on the road on the PK at 84% and seventh on the PP at 22.7%.
Maine’s goaltending has been a massive part of their success, as both Micheal DiPietro and Francois Brassard are in the top 10 in GAA this season; the Idaho Steelheads are the only other the team in the ECHL that has both their goaltenders in the top two Remi Poirier and Adam Scheel are ranked second and third respectively. Francois Brassard also scored a goalie goal this season in Adirondack and was the first Mariners goalie goal in the team’s history. The goaltenders (Michael DiPietro and Francois Brassard) have been on a bit of a cold streak, even though they are some of the best in the ECHL this season.
Worcester Railers (4th Place, 32-30-3, 67 Points)
The Railers started the year off as the hottest team in the North, as they won their first nine games of the season, six of which came at the DCU Center; both those streaks are franchise bests. Worcester had a chance last weekend during their three-game set with Adirondack to put the nail in the coffin on the Thunder’s playoff hopes but instead allowed the Thunder right back into the race, as the Railers now hold a slim three-point lead. However, Adirondack does have two games in hand. In Worcester’s case, they have been doing just enough to keep themselves in a playoff spot for the time being. Brent Beaudoin leads the team with 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points; Anthony Rapaci is the Railer’s only 20-goal scorer at the moment. Henri Tikkanen is in his first year in North America after being drafted by the New York Islanders in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft. In 33 games this season, Tikkanen is 17-15-2 with a 2.94 GAA, .918 SV%, and two shutouts.
One of the keys to a good team, especially in the playoffs, is staying out of the box, and the Railers have the least penalty minutes in the league at 595; however, they are 20th in the league on the PK at 77.7%. Worcester is also the only team in the ECHL that has won every game when they have been ahead after two periods. The Railers have identical home and away records this season, which could play in their favor come playoff time. Worcester has seven games; five vs. Adirondack, one vs. Maine, and one vs. Trois Rivieres.
Adirondack Thunder (5th Place, 27-26-8-2, 64 Points)
Talk about timing; the Adirondack Thunder have been eyeing down the Worcester Railers, and for a while, it felt like whenever the Thunder would win, so would the Railers, and the gap seemed to be stuck at 9 points behind the Railers. Adirondack had a three-game set last week with the Railers, where they took all three games of the week, and now sit just three points back of the Railers and have two games in hand on them. One thing Adirondack has found over their current eight-game winning streak is goaltending, which is huge, seeing that Isaac Poulter has been bouncing between the Utica Comets and the Thunder. Jake Theut and Mike Robinson have been carrying the load for the Thunder, as Theut was sent back to the Thunder last week and started all three games vs. Worcester, allowing only one goal in each of the three games. Robinson came up from the Huntsville Havoc of the SPHL and is 2-0-1 with a 3.27 GAA and .907 SV%. Adirondack has added a lot of defencemen recently as Ivan Chukarov is the only healthy defenceman who was in Adirondack’s opening night lineup, and everyone on the blueline is starting to find their stride offensively as well. Adirondack’s offense hasn’t been a worry this season despite many guys getting a shot up in Utica at different points throughout the year. Patrick Grasso has 30 goals, the first Thunder since Brian Ward to reach that plateau. The Thunder struggled on the road this season as they are 9-16-4-1 away from the Cool Insuring Arena. However, they have the second-best road PP of the year at 24.6%. Adirondack is on a season-high eight-game point streak with nine remaining games. They have five games vs. Railers, two vs. Maine, one vs. Reading, and one vs. Trois Rivieres.
The Thunder are currently dealing with critical injuries, as Jake Theut headed to the IR yesterday. Jeff Taylor, Yanick Turcotte, Mareks Mitens, and Brandon Schultz are all on the IR.