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ECHL season opens on Thursday

Monday, October 16th
ECHL season opens on Thursday

SHREWSBURY, N.J. – The 36th season of the ECHL begins on Thursday when the Orlando Solar Bears host the two-time defending Kelly Cup champion Florida Everblades at Amway Center and the Iowa Heartlanders welcome the Rapid City Rush to Xtream Arena. Opening Weekend continues with seven games on Friday and 13 games on Saturday before concluding with three games on Sunday.
 
Friday’s schedule features a pair of rematches from the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs with Newfoundland hosting Reading and Idaho welcoming Allen. Other games on Friday’s schedule include Indy entertaining Fort Wayne, Maine visiting Trois-Rivières, Savannah hosting Norfolk and Wichita taking on Kansas City.
 
Eleven teams open their home schedule on Saturday including Maine hosting Trois-Rivières, South Carolina welcoming Orlando, Atlanta taking on Savannah, Jacksonville entertaining Florida, Kalamazoo hosting Toledo, Norfolk visiting Greenville, Kansas City welcoming Wichita, Worcester taking on Adirondack, Fort Wayne entertaining Indy, Cincinnati hosting Wheeling and Utah taking on Tulsa.
 
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that has 28 teams in 20 states and two Canadian provinces playing 1,008 games from Oct. 19, 2023 to April 14, 2024. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, and last season welcomed an average of 4,639 fans per game, marking the League’s highest per-game average in nine years. Additionally, between the regular season and Kelly Cup Playoffs, an all-time record of 5,044,458 fans attended ECHL games.
 
The ECHL has affiliations with 28 teams in the National Hockey League in 2023-24, marking the 27th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
 
New faces behind the benches
 
Five of the 28 ECHL teams will have a new coach in charge as the 2023-24 season gets underway.
 
Derek Nesbitt enters his first season as head coach in Atlanta after serving as the club’s assistant coach last season. Nesbitt played 441 of his 544 career ECHL games with the Gladiators and is tied for 23rd in league history with 538 career points.
 
In Fort Wayne, Jesse Kallechy joins the Komets as head coach after serving as Florida’s assistant coach for the previous three seasons.
 
Matt Cooke, who played over 1,000 career NHL games over 16 seasons with Vancouver, Washington, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, gets his first coaching assignment with Newfoundland.
 
Ron Choules is the new head coach in Trois-Rivières after previously spending six seasons as head coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
 
Pat Mikesch takes over in Toledo for his first professional head-coaching job after spending eight seasons as head coach for Green Bay in the United States Hockey League from 2014-22.
 
Approaching milestones
 
Justin Taylor of Kalamazoo begins the season third all-time with 795 games played. He enters the season 65 games shy of passing Sam Ftorek for second place on the ECHL’s all-time games played list. Taylor sits ninth all-time with 276 goals and is tied for 23rd with 538 points.
 
Garet Hunt, who is the league’s all-time leader with 2,678 penalty minutes, returns to the ECHL after playing last season in the KHL, and ranks sixth all-time with 709 games played.
 
On the coaching front, Florida’s Brad Ralph, who is the league’s all-time leader with 79 career postseason wins, enters the season sixth all-time with 446 regular-season wins. Ralph is 35 wins shy of moving into fifth place and is 47 wins away from moving into fourth all-time.
 
Tulsa’s Rob Murray enters the season sixth all-time with 854 games coached and ninth with 421 wins. Murray is 72 games coached shy of tying Steve Martinson for fourth in league history.

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