We are a little over halfway through the ECHL season, which has 14 of its 26 teams competing, as the Fort Wayne Komets were the latest team to begin their season back on February 12th. Prior to the league’s announcement that the North Division would be opting out, the Adirondack Thunder had their whole roster set, as they had 21 players signed to contracts for the season. Once the announcement came out, players had a decision to make and eight of those players signed new contracts with other teams. When speaking with players about the decision, there seemed to be one common answer and that was being able to get out and play hockey after being in lockdown through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staying in the ECHL
Nick Hutchison (Indy Fuel)
Prior to the start of the season, Nick Hutchison was one of the bigger names to watch in Adirondack after coming off his year at Canisius College and a strong ECHL debut at the end of the season. Doing so with the Thunder, the centreman racked up two points, having scored one goal along with one assist. When the Thunder first opted out, Nick, like most people, was worried. “It was a little concerning obviously,” Hutchison said. However, his next step was to look for other places to play and Indy was one of the teams that showed interest previously after he graduated college. In 32 games with the Fuel, Hutchison has tallied 10 points, having scored three goals along with seven assists.
Charlie Curti (Rapid City Rush)
It comes as no surprise that teams would be interested in Charlie Curti once Adirondack pulled out of the season. Curti spent his rookie year with the Thunder, amassing 31 points in 56 games played. Scoring 11 goals and 20 assists, Curti was seeing top pairing minutes during the second half of the regular season. However, since joining the Rapid City Rush, Curti has seen his role change, as he’s moved to the bottom pairing of a team that is always at the top of the standings. So far this season, Curti’s played in 42 games, having scored three goals along with 11 assists.
Alex Sakellaropoulos (Previously Wichita Thunder)
Sakellaropoulos was one of two players who were planning to make their return to the Thunder this season. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he signed with his ninth team in the Wichita Thunder. While having since been released, the backstop played six games with the Thunder, where he posted a record of 2-3-1. He also had a 2.60 GAA as well as a save percentage of .934. During a Facebook Live in late February, Adirondack Thunder bench boss Alex Loh confirmed that Sakellaropoulos is one of four players who will be back with the team for next season. “I had an opportunity and they call me gave me the run down and told me I’d be here the rest of the season and it was kind of a no-brainer opportunity and go get my game because that’s better than sitting on a couch,” said the 26-year-old.
Mike Szmatula (Jacksonville Icemen)
In his first two years in the ECHL, Mike Szmatula was known as a goal scorer, as he put up 27 goals and 48 points in his rookie season. He also put up 20 last season in a shortened year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The change in scenery from Adirondack to Jacksonville has seen the left-hander’s numbers drop, however, he’s managed to tally 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 36 games with the Icemen.
Samuel Laberge (Allen Americans)
For Samuel Laberge, He’s returned to Texas, where his pro career began in 2017-18. He did so when he cracked the roster with the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League. Now, in his first ECHL season, Laberge has tallied 30 points, scoring 14 goals along with 16 assists. Doing so with the Allen Americans, the Châteauguay, QC native has skated in 40 games. The 23-year-old spent 2019-20 in the LNAH with the Sorel-Tracy Eperviers. That’s where he first found his scoring touch, tallying 16 goals in 34 games played.
Nick Rivera (Wheeling Nailers)
The Adirondack Thunder were expected to add a big body upfront when they announced the signing of Nick Rivera. In his last two years at Minnesota St. (Mankato), Rivera hit the double-digit goal tally, putting up 10 in both his junior and senior seasons. Now, with the Wheeling Nailers, the winger has tallied 11 points, racking up six goals along with five assists. This includes three multi-point contests. In a pandemic-filled season where AHL guys are playing in the ECHL and unfortunately taking spots from younger guys, Rivera noted how fortunate he was to get the spot on the roster in Wheeling. When asked about the differences between college and the ECHL, Rivera said, “It’s a lot different. You gotta maintain your body, you gotta maintain your health. It’s a different style of game. In college, you prepare all week for one game, and in pro hockey, you play one game, and the next, you could be playing a totally different team.” However, he said after a few weeks, he was able to get used to the new routine.
Mathieu Brodeur (Fort Wayne Komets)
Heading into the 2020 ECHL offseason, the Adirondack Thunder didn’t have many big holes to fill. When Michael Sdao announced he was retiring and taking a coaching job with the Lincoln Stars, the Thunder needed to add size on the blueline, and with that, they signed Mathieu Brodeur (6’6) to bolster their blueline. The St. Eustache, QC native had already spent two years with the Thunder before making the trip overseas. When asked about why he decided to sign with the Thunder, Brodeur brought up the fact that it’s only three hours away from home. Mathieu also responds to every question as “we” because he mentions that all his decisions are made with his family. In a year filled with uncertainty, especially for athletes and their families, it’s important that guys like Mathieu still understand how important family is. In 28 games with the Komets this year, the defensemen has tallied six points, having scored two goals along with four assists.
Colby Sissons (Florida Everblades)
There are a few players who have been struggling with their new teams, but Sissons isn’t one of them. The Edmonton, Alberta native got a late start to the season due to the US-Canada border closure, but has found his game since landing in Florida. However, this wasn’t his first option, as the Canadian defensemen mentioned. “My original plan was to play in Binghamton this year, so it definitely sucked not having that option. For me myself, still having a place to play was ok. I know a couple of my buddies on the team, it was disappointing for them, even though a bunch of them found places to play,” he said. In 24 games this season, the lefty has amassed 16 points, having scored five goals along with 11 assists.
Matt Salhany (Denmark)
During the 2020 offseason, we saw many ECHL players head overseas due to the uncertainty surrounding the season. However, one player that stayed in the states was Matt Salhany, who resides year-round in Warwick, RI. That was until recently when he signed a deal to play the season in Denmark. This is a smart move for the forward, who led the Thunder in scoring in 2019-20. Through six games overseas in Vojens, Salhany has amassed six points, having tallied three goals along with three assists.