On March 10th, 2020, the Adirondack Thunder suffered a 5-4 loss to the Worcester Railers at the Cool Insuring Arena. This was a loss that saw their losing streak extend to five games. As I left the press box that night, I had no idea that it would be the last time the Thunder would play a game during the 2019-20 season, as their trip to Brampton was canceled, which was a foreshadow of what was to come. Two days later, the ECHL paused their season and the lights would be shut across the league because of rapid infection transmission.
The 2020 ECHL offseason was a rather long one with lots of questions, but few answers. However, teams were continuing to build rosters for the upcoming season, and in October, the league announced their return-to-play plan, as 26 clubs were scheduled to play a split-season schedule, with half the league to play 72 games starting in December and 62 for the other half, which was drawn up for January.
However, only 14 teams would end up hitting the ice for the ECHL’s 33rd season, as the other 11 would take the voluntary opt-out. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, I believe the ECHL did an exceptional job at keeping the players and fans safe this season despite roadblocks in protocol. For those 11 teams and two new expansion teams, the 2021-22 season is going to be something special. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what this offseason and next season means for the Adirondack Thunder.
Hockey To Return In Glens Falls
Adirondack was putting together a strong roster for the 2020-21 season and that team built in the summer of 2020 is expected to look very similar to the one that hits the ice in October. With that, the league announced that players who signed with a team that pulled out and played elsewhere will have their rights retained by the team they originally signed with. Some players have elected to sign overseas, so there should be a few new faces arising in Glens Falls as well. Head coach Alex Loh hinted that a few guys who signed for the 2019-20 season will be returning to the Thunder, so the roster should look very familiar. Two names that won’t be returning to the team next year are Matt Salhany and Mike Szmatula, who signed one-year deals to play in Vojens, Denmark. Salhany signed overseas for 2019-20, meanwhile, Szmatuala played for the Jacksonville Icemen.
When Adirondack hosts its home opener on October 23rd against the Newfoundland Growlers, it will have been 592 days since their last regular season contest. That night is going to be special for many reasons. One of them including the fact that the Thunder were on the outside looking in at a spot in the playoffs and were on the verge of missing the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time as an ECHL member team. However, choosing to sit out during the pandemic, the Kelly Cup appearance streak stays alive for at least one more year. It’s also going be the first time in over a year that hockey will be played at Cool Insuring Arena, and the facility recently announced it will be at full capacity come opening night. The excitement isn’t just on the ice with the players and staff, but it lies in the fans, who are just as excited to hear the voice of Dan Miner, the Thunder’s public address announcer. Section N will be back in full force behind the visitor’s bench, heckling at opponents every chance they get. With each game, for a memorable two hours, everyone in the rink can recall what life was like before the COVID-19 pandemic.