When Adirondack hits the ice for their opening night contest on Friday evening, the team is going to look very different from the one that hit the ice during the 2019-20 season. “It’s great, for some of us, it was a 19-month offseason, so just getting back out there with the group of guys was great,” said bench boss Alex Loh.
When asked about the changes and increase in players with prior professional experience, Loh talked about having the right mix of players. Despite the many changes, two familiar faces will be making their return to Glens Falls in Alex Sakellaropoulous and Pete MacArthur. Those are two huge names returning, and when talking to Alex Carrier about the benefits that offers the Thunder, he said, “It’s huge, you bring two experienced players who have played here, had success here, MacArthur is a huge part of our leadership, having him and have Alex around, they are going to bring their experience, and they are going to push the younger guys to get better.”
The Devils moved their ECHL affiliate to Utica, and with that, we may see more back and forth between the two clubs. Pete Dinnen’s brother, Kevin, is heading into his first year as the team’s head coach. “It means a lot,” the bench boss said. “It’s a great opportunity for Kevin, and there’s a lot of talent not just in Utica, but here as well.” He also touched on the effect of the team being closer and the effect that will have on the organization. “I think it’s great,” Dinnen said. Seeing that it’s under two hours, the Devils can make a move and we are able to move, as well with the short distance.”
Adirondack also announced that Peter MacArthur will serve as the hockey club’s captain. Blake Thompson and Shane Harper will serve as the home alternates, and the two Frenchmen, Alex Carrier and Samuel Laberge, will wear the A on the road.
The group of forwards for Adirondack has a very different look from the 2019-20 season, as Alex Carrier is the lone forward from that season. Carrier is a guy who’s going to slot in on the second or third line. He can throw the body around, but won’t do anything crazy offensively. The 30-year-old winger has also spent the last three years with the club, which will keep a familiar face in the locker room.
Despite losing several key guys offensively, the Thunder went out and filled that void with guys like Rob Bordson and Pete MacArthur. However, Bordson was one of two players who shortly after would end up signing overseas. Shane Haper among the team’s first three signings, alongside both Bordson and McCarthur.
Harper comes back to North America after spending the last four seasons competing in Russia and Sweden. He has experience at all three levels, which includes eight games with the Florida Panthers, 398 in the AHL, and 63 in the ECHL. The California native is another player who can add scoring up front, as he’s put up double digit scoring totals in all but one of his professional seasons.
MacArthur, who spent his childhood playing in the Cool Insuring Arena, is happy to be back playing professionally in Glens Falls. The 36-year-old spent last season in San Antonio, overseeing development camps both on and off the ice, as well as being a mentor to players. He’s played in five-plus seasons in the ECHL, where he’s amassed 209 points, scoring 68 goals and 141 assists.
Adirondack also signed three other forwards along with MacArthur, all of which they had signed last summer before the Thunder opted out. Nick Rivera re-signed with the team after having signed elsewhere for 2020-21. The forward spent last season with the Wheeling Nailers, where he put amassed 29 points, scoring 14 goals and 15 assists in 55 games. These two guys spent time together at Minnesota Mankato, and I expect them to be placed together this season on the second line. Ryan Smith also joins the Thunder after spending last season in the SPHL. Skating with the Macon Mayhem, he amassed 26 points, putting up nine goals and 17 assists in 42 games. He would later get called up on a loan to the Tulsa Oilers, where he played in three games, however, failed to record a point.
The final two forwards we’ll mention that have been added to the roster are Nick Devito and Colin Long. DeVito joins Adirondack after taking off the COVID-struck campaign, but spent the end of the 2019-20 season in the North Division, competing near Boston with the Worcester Railers. Playing in only three games, he tallied one point, as he recorded a single assist. Prior to joining the Railers, he spent four seasons at Morrisville State, where he amassed 93 points, putting up 36 goals and 57 assists in 100 contests.
Long is another player returning making his return to North America. The 32-year-old spent the last eight seasons overseas, competing in Germany, Finland, Italy and Austria. He has 53 games of AHL experience and 50 games of ECHL experience under his belt. Long should fit in nicely this season on the third line. When looking at what is going to be the top two lines for the Thunder, I believe it’s going to be the MacArthur-Long-Carrier line and the Payne-Harper and Laberge line. Both these lines have potential to be major offensive contributors this season.
As mentioned, Payne was one of the top three goal scorers with the Thunder in 2019-20, and I expect him to be up there again this season. On another note, the one big injury the team is dealing with early is that of Shane Harper, who will be out for five weeks with a broken jaw. While a giant blow to the Thunder, I think they have enough scoring to get by while the winger recovers.
Losing Charlie Curti to Denmark is a huge blow for Adirondack, as he was expected to be a guy who could be relied on to play top-pairing minutes. When looking at the defensive core, Blake Thompson is the only returning face to the blue line from the 2019-20 season. Thompson adds a veteran presence to a club that’s going to possess a very youthful blue-line this season. The 28-year-old displayed a spark of offensive talent in 2018-19 when he scored six goals, however, he only played in 42 games the following year, where he only managed to tally two goals. “It’s been good,” said the Ontario native. “A lot of new faces, a lot of us didn’t get to play last year, and we’re excited to get a chance to play.”
Adirondack brought in five new faces on the defensive side of the rink, two of which have prior ECHL experience in Jimmy Mazza and Jake Ryczek. pent 17 games with the Reading Royals in 2019-20. Ryczek joins the team in Glens Falls after taking the 2020-21 season off and playing in 46 games with the Indy Fuel in 2019-20. I’ve loved Ryzeck’s play so far through camp and I feel like him being paired with Thompson will produce a solid top pairing for Adirondack. “I can’t wait to get games going again,” Ryczek said. The Thunder also made a midweek trade with the Wheeling Nailers, acquiring Ivan Chukarov in exchange for Nick Hutchison. This move makes a lot of sense for Adirondack, seeing that two of their seven defensemen are on professional tryouts with the team. Chris Lijdsman is on the opening night roster despite only being with the camp for the last three days of camp. “He’s a guy who has seen a little time in the SPHL, and a little time in the ECHL” said Head Coach Alex Loh. Lijdsman spent 15 games with the Jacksonville Icemen back in 2019-20. At the same time, he served as a player-assist coach with the Roanoke Raildogs. He’d go on to spend 2020-21 in the SPHL.
Chukarov, 26-years-old, is a left-handed shot from Des Plaines, IL. He spent the latter part of 2018-19 with the Worcester Railers, then re-signed with the team for the 2019-20 season. Appearing in 53 contests, Chukarov amassed 13 points, racking up three goals along with 10 assists. He spent his collegiate career with the UMass Minutemen where he amassed 25 points, putting up six goals and 19 assists in 128 games. He was selected by the Buffalo Sabres 182nd overall back in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. “I love the arena and the surrounding town and I’m happy to be here,” he explained with a smile. When asked about what it’s going to be like taking the ice against Worcester, Chukarov said, “It’s going be interesting, a lot of familiar faces for me on that team, it will be fun to go back there and play in the DCU Center.” Just days after acquiring Chukarov, the Thunder made another addition, signing defenseman Jake Hamilton to a standard player agreement. Hamilton took 2019-20 off, but played in 11 ECHL games in 2019-20, as he saw time with both Jacksonville and the Kansas City Mavericks.
Utica recently assigned Michael Vukojevic to Adirondack. Vukojevic had a goal and 10 assists in 26 games last season in Binghamton. Prior to that, he spent three years in the Ontario Hockey League with the Kitchener Rangers. A third-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, Vukojevic will not be a regular contributor offensively, however, is a player who is very capable, and if provided the right ice time, can compile big points, by way of assisting in scoring situations.
Adirondack struggled with goaltending during the 2019-20 campaign, and when asked about what the tandem could look like heading into the season, Head Coach Alex Loh said, “We gotta make sure we trust the goaltenders that are coming down. That’s part of the reason we brought in Alex [Sakellaropoulos] as well. The goaltending situation in Glens Falls is one to be excited about heading into the year. The Illinois native spent 2018-19 with the Thunder and has also spent time with eight other ECHL teams. His numbers aren’t anything special, but he had a solid year with the Thunder in 2018-19, where he went 19-6-5 with a .915 save percentage and a GAA of 2.51. He also added to that three shutouts. He has a 33-34-6 lifetime record in the E, compiling a GAA of a 3.03 and a .907 save percentage. One thing he brings is experience as a starter, and has experience in the league, which is something that Adirondack needs this season. “Hockey’s back, glad to be back because last year was really tough,” the 27-year-old said. “Really happy to be back in Glens Falls, especially the Civic center, seeing the fans out there was pretty special.”
I expect him to be the starter if the Thunder don’t go with a 1A, 1B mentality. According to the team’s bench boss, Adirondack was expected to acquire two goalies this season from Utica, which would be very interesting, however, with Mackenzie Blackwood’s heel issue, I wouldn’t be surprised if they only get one from the Comets, as that will have an effect on both themselves and Adirondack. However, the Thunder signed Brandon Kasel to a contract after he attended training camp on a professional tryout. Mareks Mitens was recently optioned to Adirondack, however, was recalled back to Utica before the season began. Mitens spent four years at Lake Superior State University, where he went 36-42-9, owning a GAA of 2.51 and a .914 save percentage. He also recorded six shutouts with the Lakers.
Mitens mentioned during camp that he’s still getting used to the bigger ice and talked about taking it day-by-day when asked about how often Cormier went up and down in 2019-20. In four games last year with Binghamton, Mitens went 1-3, owning a GAA of 2.81 and a .899 save percentage. The team will start the year with Kasel and Sakellaropoulos, given that Mitens was recalled to backup Akira Schmid in Utica. Meanwhile, Kasel, who played collegiate hockey at nearby Skidmore College, was signed to a standard player agreement.