BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Mailbag #6
Blog #27 – October 30, 2020
by John Peterson
Why, hello there fellow hockey fans. It’s nice to write to you again.
The last time we did a K-Wings Mailbag was two months ago at the end of August and I thought now was a great time to answer more of your questions. After all, there have been a few big news stories since the last blog.
For starters, we have an official return-to-play plan. The ECHL decided on a split start to the season as some of the league’s 26 member teams will begin play in December, while the rest start in mid-January. We hope you’re as excited about that as we are, even considering the adjustments we’ll all have to get used to in order to make sure it is a success.
You may have recognized eight more big names added to the 2020-21 roster, which is taking shape nicely.
Back in September, we announced the return of 2019-20 Rookie of the Year Ian Edmondson and former Western Michigan standout Matheson Iacopelli, as well as premiere free agent acquisitions Mitch Hults and Nick Bruneteau.
Veterans Justin Taylor and Eric Kattelus, the two longest-tenured K-Wings players in team history are back for years eleven and ten, respectively, as we’ve announced this month. Goaltender Jake Hildebrand is also on board for a third season in Kalamazoo, while former WMU Broncos forward Justin Kovacs is back in the fold.
And like everyone else in the country (and many other parts of the world), we are closely monitoring the constantly developing news—encouraging and discouraging be it may—surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us all to stay on our toes.
Keep that last part in mind as a wildcard when you read along today, as things could always change based on any good news or otherwise from now until January 15, when we’re scheduled to hit the ice again. Thanks for reading and enjoy!
Q: When is the first game?- Logan C.
The first group of ECHL teams begin play Dec. 11 as part of the staggered start to the season. 13 teams opted into that first group and the league released a schedule for those teams just for the first month of the season.
All the remaining teams who chose the second start date, including Kalamazoo, will start play January 15. An exact schedule will be released in mid-December sometime before Christmas, so we don’t know just yet if the K-Wings will start at home or on the road.
The first group will play a 72-game season, while the K-Wings group will play 62 games. The ECHL will determine the playoff qualifiers based on winning percentage, similar to how the AHL determines playoff teams in a normal year, as their pacific coast teams play fewer games than everyone else.
Q: Will fans be allowed at the games?- Jesse A.
Yes, but only season ticket holders to start. Because of Michigan’s current rules on crowd sizes due to the pandemic, we are only allowed up to 500 fans at Wings Event Center. We have roughly that many season ticket holders, so that group will have exclusive access until anything changes that allows us to have more fans in the building.
Ultimately our goal is to have as many fans at the games as possible, as long as it is safe to do so. Once we get the all clear to open things up to more fans, we’ll communicate the message accordingly.
Q: Why can’t the K-Wings play a 72-game season? - Austin S.
Originally, when the ECHL delayed its start date to December 4 for all 26 teams, the plan was to stretch a 72-game schedule out into June. When it became clear that about half the teams had strict building restrictions in their states, limiting many teams to minimum fans or no fans, this was the best route for the league to return to play with as many teams opting-in as possible.
Luckily we have an ownership group committed to icing a team this season, as long as we can do so safely for our players, staff and fans. The best option to buy us time is to commit to the January 15 start date and hope that things improve to where we’ll be allowed to include more fans at Wings Event Center. If not, we’ll play the 62-game season with only 500 fans in the building,
In order to sync all the teams up for the end of the season and a quick transition into the summer playoffs, the second group had to drop to a 62-game schedule.
Q: With Ben Wilson gone, will Justin Taylor wear the “C”?- Gabe H.
Following the news of four-year captain Ben Wilson’s departure this summer, as the veteran defenseman signed a contract to play in Romania, we received a list of comments on social media wondering who the next captain will be. Many K-Wings fans suggested Justin Taylor.
This will no doubt be a hot-button topic entering training camp, tentatively scheduled to begin the first week in January. I’ll say this: I am not involved in the decision-making process, nor would I pretend to know what the plan is. With that being said, I have to think Taylor would be one of the frontrunners on the short list.
He has been an alternate captain for multiple seasons and is the team’s all-time leader in games played. Another player with similar credentials, who we just announced re-signed Thursday is Eric Kattelus. Both are well respected for their leadership in the organization and in the community.
Free agent acquisition Mathieu Roy is another candidate, given his past experience captaining the Florida Everblades to a Kelly Cup. From everything I’ve heard, he does it all, so I’d add him to the short list. A couple of wildcard candidates I talked about in my recent blog about Ben Wilson and the captain topic include Tanner Sorenson and Boston Leier, if he signs.
Either way it shakes out, every one of these individuals are leaders, professionals and valuable assets to this team. I’m sure all would be honored to wear the “C”, but none will feel slighted if they don’t. That’s a good problem to have for the K-Wings coaches.
Q: Will the Largest Lightsaber Battle be published in the Guinness World Records book?- Tiffany G.
Great timing. Yes! We made it in the 2021 Guinness World Records book. I remember reading through these books when I was a kid and it’s awesome to look back at last season and celebrate the fact that we achieved a world record with the help of thousands of our fans.
The Largest Lightsaber Battle made the book, but there isn’t any pictures of the event included, as GWR understandable has thousands of records to fit in the book every year and it is impossible to include pictures from all of them. For those interested in obtaining the book as a keepsake, it is available for purchase on the Guinness World Records website.
Q: Will we be required to wear a mask? Are the K-Wings organization making that call?- Ned Y.
Masks will be mandatory at Wings Event Center this season unless notified otherwise. Our staff will be wearing them, arena staff will be wearing them, and fans will need to wear them unless you are in your seats actively eating or drinking. This is a policy purely based on the safety and health of our fans, staff and team being our top priority.
Unless something changes from now until the season starts, I might have to wear one during my broadcasts, the coaches might have to wear them on the bench and players might even have to wear them on the ice. Obviously this isn’t ideal and nobody wants to wear a mask just to make a fashion statement. We are simply doing what we can to follow the health guidelines put in place by the experts.
Q: How do the PODs work with social distancing at Wings Event Center?- Multiple STH
Another protocol for ensuring the safety of our season ticket holders this season is to spread everyone out so there is six feet of separation, per the health guidelines. Unfortunately that means we’ll have to move some fans out of their usual seats into something nearby to meet these requirements.
The good news is this. Families with multiple season tickets will still be able to sit together. Additionally, regulations allow up to 10 people to sit together in PODs. If two or more groups of season ticket holders would like to sit together in a POD, all parties just need to let their K-Wings account representative know in writing. The only rule is the POD cannot include more than 10 people.
Q: On a scale of WWE Network to Neulion, how good is the streaming quality [of the new ECHL broadcast platform FloHockey]?- Zach A.
This question came in from a Fort Wayne fan on Twitter, posed to someone else, but we were tagged in the conversation so I figured I’d address it. I’m not familiar with the WWE Network, as pro wrestling is not my forte, but I can tell you how excited many of my peers are for this new league partnership with FloSports.
It was time for a change and I think this new platform for ECHL TV will enhance the fan experience for those following along this season and seasons to come. First of all, a FloHockey subscription is similar in price to the old all-access package offered through Neulion. The difference, however, is the annual subscription cost gets you access to every ECHL game AND access to all the other content throughout FloSports, including WCHA hockey and 25 different sports on the platform.
As for the streaming quality, I haven’t worked with FloSports before, but I’ve only heard good things. It also allows fans to choose to listen to the home or away broadcast, so you’ll be able to tune into the K-Wings broadcast whether at home or on the road. This season, given the crowd restrictions at sporting events across the country, a subscription to FloHockey could be a great way to get your fix!
Q: Will we still be able to meet the players at events and in the community this season with everything going on?- Multiple STH
Unfortunately, the players will not be allowed to do community appearances this season. This is a league policy put in place for the purpose of forming as much of a “bubble” as possible. The coaches, equipment manager, trainer and I will also be included in that bubble, as we travel together to road cities. This is the same policy almost every pro sports league is putting in place to limit the spread of the virus and to avoid outbreaks that could affect an entire team.
Everyone in the bubble will only be able to be around direct family (wives and kids) during the entire season. The K-Wings front office staff won’t even be able to have contact with the hockey team (which means I’ll be attending every staff meeting virtually this season). Good thing I put together that home office back in April.
While we know this is a huge bummer for everyone, we hope you understand and can’t wait for things to be back to normal again. Luckily, the plan is drop the puck in January, and this roster is looking good!
Stay safe and healthy in the meantime, and 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 email@example.com. Enjoy!