In the world of the ECHL, lines are a constant shuffling of the deck, as players come and go. Some players are traded, others called up, some sent down from the AHL and the coaching staff is forced to re-evaluate the lines, searching for that chemistry that creates goals. Some teams in the ECHL remain fairly steady in their line-up, others, due to the pile-up of injuries on an NHL affiliate, may have more roster moves due to the trickle-down effect.
The New York Islanders have had their fair share of injuries. When Evgeni Nabokov missed three weeks, out with a lower body injury, the goalie shuffle began, with Anders Nilsson heading up from AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Stockton Thunder tender Parker Milner getting the call-up. Nabokov is now back in net with Nilsson in as a backup for this weekend’s matchup against the New Jersey Devils. Milner has returned to Stockton, and his strength in between the pipes shows the impact playing at the AHL level can make on a player’s game.
With the Sochi games came injury to Islanders Captain John Tavares, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a partially torn MCL in the game against Latvia, two games before Canada took gold. Forwards Frans Nielson and Matt Martin are also sidelined with injury which left a hole in the Isles’ offensive line and created opportunity for Sound Tigers top performing line of Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, and Mike Halmo. The call-up was as much based on the need to fill the offensive line as it was merit-based for the three. Strome-Lee-Halmo have led the Sound Tigers to six straight wins, playing a major role in the team’s second half surge.
In their first game up with the Isles on February 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anders Lee got to work on the power play in the third period and tied the game 3-3. When the Leafs Joffrey Lupul got the go-ahead goal late in the third it would be Lee again off a feed from Strome that would knot the game up 4-4 and force overtime, with the Isles winning in OT on Visnovsky’s goal and snapping a six game home winless streak for the team.
The Sound Tigers, with their top line called up, made some moves, bringing in Stockton Thunder forward Joey Martin, Bakersfield Condors Captain Joel Broda and Iowa Wild, former ECHL Idaho Steelheads Captain Justin Mercier to the roster. Joey Martin has been a consistent performer for the Thunder this season, whether it be scoring goals or generating chances, the points leader (51pts), he led the team both in goals (17) and assists (35) after the departure of forward Andrew Clark, also up with the Sound Tigers. Before his call-up, Martin had an impressive weekend in games against the Colorado Eagles, netting 3 goals in 3 games, the chemistry with his linemates Corey Trivino and Adam Brace coming through loud and clear.
In his debut with the Sound Tigers on Friday night against the Providence Bruins, Joey Martin put a puck past Svedberg after intercepting a breakout pass to Bruins David Warsofksy, with just 3 seconds left in the opening period. Andrew Clark continues to make an impact with Bridgeport, his goal gave the Sound Tigers a two-goal lead late in the second. Clark garnered the first star of the game and Martin, in his first game skated away with the 3rd star.
With all the shifts at both the NHL and AHL level, the Stockton Thunder had adjustments too. Right before Martin’s call-up to Bridgeport, Greg Miller, the Thunder’s other solid scoring forward was involved in a trade with the OKC Barons and the Sound Tigers, bringing Nicholas Tremblay to Stockton from Bakersfield. Forward Riley Wetmore was also sent down from Bridgeport and added an instant spark during the Colorado series with his linemates. Prior to last Sundays matinee game with the Eagles, Thunder Head Coach Rich Kromm said of the line combination, “Wetmore is a natural center, so we put him with J.P. Burkemper and Alex MacLeod. I thought they played a pretty steady solid game. They had good puck possession in the offensive zone.”
The Stockton Thunder will take on the Ontario Reign in a Sunday late matinee match-up with some new line combinations, given the call-ups and injuries. Coach Kromm had paired up Martin-Trivino-Brace, with tremendous success so it will be a wait and see as far as who fills Martin’s slot. Matt Bergland, James Henry and Garet Hunt have been a solid line for the Thunder, with Henry racking up goals and assists. Ryan Hayes, who had shoulder surgery earlier in the season, is making a recovery and although he is still not ready for gameplay showcased his scoring touch during the team’s Bulletproof Energy Drinks Skills and Drills Challenge earlier this week. Nicholas Tremblay has yet to make his debut for the Thunder as he is still working through injury sustained during his time with the Condors.
Defensive line pairings may also get the shuffle for the Thunder. Shawn Boutin, a solid two-day defenseman for the Thunder, collided with the boards during last weekend’s Colorado series and although he finished the game with a goal did not return to the lineup on Sunday and has since been placed on the 21-day IR. Ryan Constant, the Thunder top D-man on the power play, was forced to block a shot in Sunday’s game and did not finish. During the Skills and Drills Challenge, Constant was wearing a boot but hasn’t been put on IR, so he may be in the lineup come Sunday with the Reign. Mike Keenan, recently returned from the Sound Tigers, was paired with Constant and Coach Kromm liked the chemistry between the two during the Colorado series. Finally, Ben Rosen has flipped between forward and defense for the Thunder. He played defense in college and put together a solid defensive unit with Landon Oslanski in last weekend’s series.
The Stockton Thunder meet the Ontario Reign on Sunday March 2nd at 4:00 at Stockton Arena before traveling to Bakersfield for a mid-week matchup with the Condors on Tuesday night.