BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Something for Everyone, Part 1
Blog #11 – May 7, 2020
by John Peterson
Lately, I’ve done a lot of reminiscing about the 2019-20 season, which ended suddenly 56 days ago.
Isn’t that hard to believe? We’ve now gone nearly two months without hockey. Two months of quarantine. Two months of doing our part to flatten the curve, slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
It didn’t hit me right away, but I realized something recently. We never really got a proper goodbye. For obvious reasons, when the ECHL officially canceled the remainder of the season, everyone on the team scattered quickly to their homes safely.
Think about it for a second. The 2019-20 team will never be together as one unit again. Sure, some of the players will be back in 2020-21. We’ll welcome them back with open arms.
But some will retire. Some will head overseas. Some will sign with new teams. Some might play in the AHL. The group, as we knew it, disbanded without proper closure.
Hockey is a tight-knit community. Before last season, I only knew most of our players through stats or one or two games visiting Wings Event Center. Others I knew from earlier in my career.
So for the next two blog posts, I’m going to say something positive about every player on the 2019-20 season-ending roster. Whatever the future holds, I wish them all well. Today, we’ll cover the goaltenders and defensemen, saving the forwards for Part 2.
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BETWEEN THE PIPES
We’ll start with the goalies, because they often get all the love in victory and, albeit unfair, much of the blame in defeat. It takes a special bird to willingly face a barrage frozen pucks shot at them at speeds upwards of 90-100 miles per hour.
#29 – Jake Hildebrand: One of the first texts I received when I got hired (before it was even public) was from Hildebrand. It said, “Do I hear there’s a celebration in order?” I got to know Jake when he played for Tulsa in 2017-18. One of the most brilliant goaltending displays I remember watching in my career was his 50+ save performance that season in a game at Idaho. This guy has made some of the most ridiculous highlight-reel saves I’ve seen in my career. He even did color-commentary on a few broadcasts that season during a brief stint on the injured list. When the Oilers traded “Hildy” to Kalamazoo after that season, I wasn’t sure we’d work together again, but here we are.
#30 – Austin Lotz: I didn’t get a chance to know Austin real well in the short time he was with the K-Wings, but one thing I admired: he made his presence known right away with confidence when he signed in March. He arrived and it almost felt like he’d been a part of the team for months. I was happy he got a chance to play (March 8 vs Toledo).
#34 – Jake Kielly: Another Jake I knew previously from a memorable 2014-15 season with the Austin Bruins of the NAHL. That was Kielly’s first year of juniors. He started the season as our backup, but burst onto the scene and backstopped the Bruins to the Robertson Cup Finals. The next year, he led the USHL’s Tri-City Storm to the Clark Cup title. After a successful three seasons at Clarkson, he signed an NHL contract as an undrafted free agent with Vancouver. I truly believe Kielly has the tools to play regularly at the AHL level and beyond if he continues to work at it. He’s a true pro, always arrives dressed for success, and has a great attitude and work ethic.
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BLUE LINE BRIGADE
The 2019-20 defensive corps featured a mixed bag of youth and veteran leadership. As a group, these guys faced the most criticism for a rocky start to the season, but improved tremendously as a unit throughout the season.
#6 – Matt VanVoorhis: I’m including VanVoorhis amongst the defenseman, because that’s how he started the season, but I could see him transitioning to forward full-time if he so chooses. The rookie stepped up in a utility role, helping wherever needed when the team was short-handed due to injuries and excelled greatly. He first tried his luck at forward in Allen and played so well, he asked the coaches if he could stay there if it would help the team. He went on to compile 12 points over the next 15 games before suffering a season-ending injury at the worst possible time. I’m predicting big things for him in his second full season.
#8 – Ian Edmondson: When he signed with Wichita at the end of the 2018-19 season, I saw Edmonson play a handful of times and thought there was some serious potential there. After appearing in Utica’s AHL training camp, he got off to a bit of a slow start with the K-Wings last season but was lights out the rest of the way. Ian quietly had himself a terrific rookie season and I think the sky is the limit for him. He was extremely reliable and valuable in all situations and I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Steady Eddie” continue to climb the ladder.
#10 – Mattias Ahman: As a late-season SPHL call-up, Ahman only appeared in seven games for Kalamazoo, but I really think with a little polishing, he could become an ECHL regular. He arrived with a great attitude, was thrown into the fire right away, and even earned a shift in overtime in his debut.
#12 – Aaron Thow: Another one of Kalamazoo’s young defenseman, Thow had a great rookie season statistically. He led all rookies on the team with seven goals and 29 points. Thow also contributed five power play goals and a short-handed tally. Several times throughout the season, it felt like the Utica prospect was deserving of a call-up to the next level. While it didn’t happen in 2019-20, I could see him earning an opportunity next season.
#14 – Ben Wilson: He may not be the biggest or the fastest player, but nobody outworked the K-Wings captain. Wilson pours everything he’s got into his role on and off the ice. He bleeds red and blue, and is one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. If it weren’t for a one-game suspension on a technicality, he would have been one of just two players on the team to skate in all 61 games. And if you go look at the tape from that fight against Fort Wayne’s Kyle Haas after the final buzzer that earned him that suspension, you’ll see this. Like leaders do, he actually tried to calm the tensions and get his team off the ice. He wanted no part in that fight. Also, I have to applaud his efforts to raise money and awareness for men’s health during Movember. He grew a great ‘stache…even if it came in second place in the voting.
#15 – Eric Kattelus: The K-Wings elder-statesman can still play at a high level. Make no mistake about it. As Head Coach Nick Bootland said last summer, when healthy, Kattelus can be your best defenseman or best forward any given night. He’s big, skilled, has a great shot and can play the game with a mean streak too. Kattelus has faced his fair share of adversity throughout his career, including the health concern that forced him to start the season on injured reserve. But one of my favorite memories of the season was when he picked up two assists November 16 in his season debut, and seeing everyone rally around him to celebrate his comeback.
#19 – Zach Frye: As one of two Utica Comets contracted defenseman, Frye arrived in Kalamazoo with high hopes of returning to the AHL where he spent quality time the two years prior. A series of injuries, however, hampered those chances. I don’t think anyone on the entire K-Wings roster hit harder than Frye. I recall several of his bone-crunching hits replayed on the video board as the “Hit of the Game” at Wings Event Center. My favorite Frye moment came in mid-December against Indy when he scored his first goal of the season and celebrated by lifting the proverbial monkey off his back.
#28 – Tyler Ganly: From the first time I met Ganly, I liked him. He agreed to an interview early in training camp and was always willing to volunteer for community appearances. Those types of things don’t get overlooked. An early-season injury forced him to miss a significant amount of time and I’m not sure he ever was able to get back to his usual form, but I do think he was playing some of his best hockey of the season when it came to a halt March 12.
#38 – Cory Dunn: Like Kielly, I knew Dunn from our time with the Austin Bruins from 2013-15. Cory was an easy player to root for because he’s always had to fight for his opportunities. As an undersized defenseman, nothing has ever been guaranteed. In 2013-14, Dunn barely made the Bruins roster, but gradually earned more playing time and eventually led the team to back-to-back trips to the finals. He was a three-time All-American at Adrian College, but then had to work for his opportunities as a rookie in the pros. I was happy for him when he scored his first pro goal February 17 at Brampton.
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HOME SCHEDULE RELEASE
Are you ready for something to look forward to?
We’ve received several questions from hockey-deprived fans wondering when we’ll announce our home schedule for the 2020-21 season. Several other ECHL teams have already done so, but we held off for multiple reasons.
First of all, we still had a few details to sort out and dates to lock down. After all, we’re still five months from the start of next season, at best.
Secondly, we wanted to be sensitive to what’s important right now: the health and safety of our fans and the understanding that there are simply bigger concerns for a lot of people right now.
With that being said, in conjunction with the league’s announcement, we’ll be revealing our 2020-21 home schedule next week. Hopefully it’s a nice reprieve during this time without sports and an opportunity to circle some dates on your calendar.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, where I’ll share something positive about each of the K-Wings forwards from the 2019-20 roster. As always, thanks for reading!
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!