Sunday, April 10, 2011


Hockey Playoffs in the ECHL

During my winter visit to the south, I focused on the teams in Florida. Let me take a moment of your time, with your permission, and update you on the current status of those teams. First of all, the Panthers are not headed for the playoffs, having lost more games by one goal than any other team in the history of the NHL. Always so close, no cigar. The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the season quite strongly, and they anticipate a long playoff run. Their captain, “Vinnie” Lecavalier, has picked up the pace.

The Everblades have their backs to the wall in the opening round of the playoffs. They are playing the Kalamazoo Wings, from Michigan. Nick Bootland, whom we remember from his days with the Guelph Storm, coaches the Wings. You will also find Justin Taylor’s name on the roster.

Justin played for the Wellington Dukes for the entire 2005-2006 season. He started the following season with the Dukes, but was called up to the OHL to play for the London Knights, much to the chagrin of Dukes’ fans and coaching staff. He played four seasons for the Knights, putting up impressive numbers throughout his OHL career. He was a fine player, and continues to play well, spending some time this season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

The Wheeling Nailers are also involved in the ECHL playoffs. They lead the South Carolina Sting Rays two games to one in their opening round playoff series. Stan Drulia stands behind the Nailers’ bench. This is his first season in Wheeling, but he has been in the coaching ranks for almost ten years. He began with the Orlando Seals in 2002, following a successful playing career.

Local hockey pundits remember Drulia from his playing days with the Belleville Bulls. In his rookie season in 1984-85, he had 55 points including 25 goals. As a sophomore, he potted 43 goals for the Bulls. He played two years with the Hamilton Steelhawks and then finished his OHL career with the Niagara Falls Thunder. In his final year in the Falls, he did not dress for all of the games. But in 47 games, he had 52 goals, 93 assists, averaging more than three points per game! As a final result, he still holds the career record for scoring the most points in the OHL.

Drulia spent the next several years in professional hockey, either in the AHL or in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning. His career was shortened by a back injury suffered in a game in Detroit while he was playing with the Lightning.

Always a classy individual, Drulia reminisced about his days in Belleville when I caught up with him prior to his game against the Everblades. “I lived with the Dolans, and I still keep in touch with them. They were great billets!”

He proudly told me that seventeen of his players had been called up to the American Hockey League this past season. He also reaffirmed my opinion that the ECHL is a big step up, even for players from the CHL. “Men and boys”, he put it succinctly.

He has kept track of the Belleville Bulls over the years. “I really loved the place,” he told me, “and I would love to work there.” In the meantime, he will try to get his troops into a position to take home the Kelly Cup.

James Hurst
April 9, 2011

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