Welcome to the very first edition of “The Thunder Scoop with Coop”. I am very excited to be rolling out weekly write-ups, analysis, news, notes, live reactions at the Cool Insuring Arena plus opinions and my take on everything happening with the Adirondack Thunder all season long sprinkled in of course with our affiliates, Utica Comets and New Jersey Devils.
The End To The 2019-20 Season, Opting Out of the North Division for 2020-21 Season.
Adirondack last took the ice on March 10th, 2020, against the Worcester Railers. Four different goal scorers potted goals for the Thunder that night. After 586 days, only one player remains on the squad to start the season, Nick Hutchison, Hutchison was also the last person to score the goal in the 3rd period at home. That’s how long we have been waiting for the Thunder hockey.
Excitement To Begin the Season, Free Agent Frenzy, Binghamton Moves to Utica, Welcome, Kevin Dineen!
The 2021-22 ECHL season is just less than a few weeks away. The 6th season for the Thunder after not counting last season after the entire North Division opted out due to COVID-19. Adirondack begins their fourth season affiliated with the New Jersey Devils organization and their first with the Utica Comets after New Jersey moved their AAA club to Binghamton to Utica. This is a return to Utica for the Devils organization as they were previously affiliated from 1987 to 1993.
Returning for his 3rd season as Thunder bench boss is Alex Loh. (59-54-14-8). Loh also serves as Director of Hockey Operations. Pete Dineen also is back for his third season with Adirondack serving as the team’s Associate Coach. This year’s player movement between the AHL and the ECHL could be very different from what fans are used to seeing not just in Adirondack’s organization but across the entire ECHL.
Not only did New Jersey have an eventful free-agent frenzy but had a frenzy behind the scenes. The Devils AHL affiliate moving cities wasn’t the only big change at the AAA level. On July 31st it was announced that head coach Mark Dennehy would be receiving a promotion. Dennehy’s new title, “Chief Scout of Amateur Scouting”, which leaves a vacancy now for Utica. Enter Kevin Dineen.
Adirondack hockey fans are no stranger to the last name “Dineen”. Kevin Dineen will be the head coach of the Utica Comets moving back to the east coast after spending the past two seasons on the west coast with the San Diego Gulls serving as their bench boss. Since retiring from playing in 2002, the veteran of 1,247 NHL regular season and playoff games has a lot of coaching expertise. He was the head coach of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League from 2005 until 2011. In 2005-06, he was named AHL Coach of the Year. From the start of the 2011-12 season until November of 2013, he was the head coach of the Florida Panthers. He was able to teach with Hockey Canada at the international level as a result of this. He was the head coach of the Canadian Women’s team in the 2014 Olympics, where they won gold. He was also the head coach of the Canadian Men’s U18 team that won bronze at the 2014 World U18 Championships. Expect the Dineen brothers to have lots of contact between each other this season.
New Jersey cashed in on the big fish by signing Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million dollar deal with a $9 million average annual value.
Fitzgerald Focuses on AHL Club On 1st & 2nd Day of Free Agency.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald wanted to send a message to the organization of commitment by going out and spending money to show that the team could play meaningful games at the end of March and the beginning of April. Fitzgerald beefed-up Utica with bringing in veterans for a very young team for development purposes. On the first day of Free Agency Fitzgerald focused on his AHL club by bringing in veteran goaltender Jonathon Bernier, resigned two key blueliners to Utica and great injury depth for New Jersey with Jonas Siegenthaler and Colton White in addition to Hamilton. The following day the vision of setting the AHL club for success continued by bringing in 7-year AHL vet Chase De Leo. Leo, 25, has spent those 7 years with Manitoba, San Diego and now Utica. He brings 365 games with him over to the Devils. Fitzgerald also brought in Brian Flynn who spent the last three seasons in Switzerland, but the former University of Maine product is no stranger to the North American Game, bouncing around three different organizations and really living that up and down career from the American League to the NHL.
Utica Camp Begins, PTO’S, Thunder Players Get invitees, Who Could Be In A Thunder Uniform From The AHL This Season?
Utica is truly looking like a team that could dominant the North Division. I expect Yegor Sharangovich to win a spot with New Jersey, but he could be down with Utica at some point during the season. New Jersey also brought in Jimmy Vesey and Tyler Wotherspoon who are still up in big club camp as those two will likely sign a two-way AHL deal to start the season and will report to the Comets before their home opener on October 17th.At this point and time, the Thunder forward numbers stand at nine. That includes Colin Long and Nick Hutchinson who are still on their invite to AHL club. They could be back in time for the Thunder’s first pre-season against Reading on Friday night but that currently is TBD. Utica’s roster currently stands at 23 forwards and there is no roster limit in the American League. It is very possible that both Hutchinson and Long earn themselves a spot-on Utica’s opening night roster by Sunday. It’s no secret, that there will be movement between Adirondack & Utica this season. My guess is Utica could send four or five forwards to us by Friday night’s matchup.
If you said “Seth, I’m going to put you on in the hot seat, who could they be?”
Here is my educated guess for you all. Dawson Mercer, Luke Stevens, Jordan Kaplan, Samuel Laberge and finally Tyce Thompson.
Wild Card Pick: Alex Brink.
Alex Brink and Luke Stevens are mostly there to help make up numbers until additional players from New Jersey are released and can join Utica. Brink is another skater from upstate New York who has yet to make his pro debut. Stevens made his pro debut in the AHL last season, playing 12 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Of course, quite a few of puzzle pieces to fit for both Utica and Adirondack to open the season to figure out the direction that they’d like to go in injuries can certainly play a factor. For Utica Prospects like Nate Schnarr and Aarne Talvitie will be looking to make an impression in order to get a call up to New Jersey. Zetterlund (19 points in 34 games), Clarke (18 points in 31 games), and Foote (17 points in 24 games) will seek to improve on a season in which they were among the top three scorers on the squad.
Mitens A Lock To Start The Season With Adirondack?
Mareks Mitens is ranked fourth on the Comets’ depth chart, thus he should get action early in the season. Mitens had a four-game stay with Binghamton after his collegiate career ended last season. He had a good senior season for Lake Superior State, going 14-6-3 with a 1.96 GAA and.930 save percentage in 25 games. When Utica has call-ups or injuries, he may be a solid backup. He will likely be one of the two goaltenders sent from Utica to start the season with the Thunder where he will get playing time down in the E, to work on the craft of his game.
You can follow me on Twitter @Seth_Coop for in game updates all season long where i’ll be tweeting, posting video updates along with my photography pictures throughout the season.