|The Elmira Jackals have performed very well thus far in their first season in the ECHL.|
They wanted to get on the bus, eat a late dinner, and go to sleep with hopes that the last three periods they played were nothing more than a bad dream.
Little did they know the nightmare was just about to begin.
At 4:30 a.m. -- roughly five hours after they boarded -- the Jackals’ bus was involved in a serious accident, as it smashed the rear-end of a tractor trailer and went down an embankment. Three Jackals’ players were hurt in the crash, as defensemen Dan Boeser and Jon Landry will miss at least a month with knee injuries, while goalie Dan LaCosta hurt his ankle.
“I was awake probably 15 minutes before (the accident),” Jackals forward Kevin Ulanski said. “I was just falling back asleep when it happened. It was pretty scary, just slamming into something in the middle of the night. You’re on your bunks, so nobody’s knows when it’s going to stop or what we’re running into.”
Elmira coach Steve Martinson, who won a United Hockey League title in Rockford (Ill.) last season, spent the past week trying to put a competitive team together after the horrific accident. In their first game back on the ice, the Jackals held off the Trenton Devils for a 5-4 shootout victory.
“Everybody woke up quick, like an alarm clock,” Martinson said of the accident. “We lost a goalie and two defensemen. Right now, the main concern is defense. Two of the guys are going to try to play in a month. I’ve got three defensemen on crutches right now.”
Ulanski put things into perspective about the accident. While the Jackals’ on-ice product could suffer over the next several weeks, health is the biggest issue here. After all, the injuries could have been much, much worse.
“It was definitely not a fun moment,” Ulanski said. “It’s still in a lot of guys’ heads. We’re fortunate that there was no life-threatening injuries. There’s a couple of guys that are out with knees, and an ankle for our goalie. But on the large scale, it’s stuff that will heal eventually.”
On a brighter note, the Jackals have performed very well thus far in their first season in the ECHL. Martinson’s familiarity with the league surely helped Elmira’s cause, as the Jackals’ coach had previous ECHL experience with the San Diego Gulls. Combine that with the talent he’s brought over from the UHL, Ulanski included, and it’s helped Elmira get off to a 14-6-1 start. Wednesday’s win over Trenton put the Jackals in a first-place tie in the North Division with Cincinnati.
“I’ve been in the league before, so I felt on paper that we had a good team,” Martinson said. “I’m not one to believe in taking a long time to gel. I think we were .500 for the first couple of weeks, and it was a little frustrating because I thought we had a better team. But guys started to kind of catch on and played better defensively.”
His previous relationship with Martinson, combined with the coach’s winning track record, made it easy for Ulanski to bolt the UHL for Elmira. Ulanski, who had 66 points in 61 games for Rockford last season, is off to another fine start in 2007-08. Twenty-one games into the season, Ulanski has four goals, nine assists and a plus-2 rating.
Elmira’s close proximity to several American Hockey League clubs also made it easy for him to jump on board during the off-season. Ulanski’s performance in Rockford earned him a 13-game promotion to AHL Milwaukee last season, which is quite a jump from the United League.
“It was real easy,” Ulanski said of his decision to join Martinson in Elmira. “He gives guys chances to move up. He’s real good at that. Last year in the United League, I think we probably had eight or nine guys get games in the American League, which is pretty uncommon for that league.”
Ulanski is hoping the AHL will come calling again soon. He notched two assists last season during his time at the Triple-A level. If he doesn’t get called up or stick in the AHL, Ulanski’s goal is simple – to help win Martinson another championship.
“Hopefully sometime,” Ulanski said when asked when he thinks he’ll get a call from an AHL club. “I think that’s everybody’s goal – to try to get up there, at least for a bit. If not, then to win one in the (ECHL) would be nice.”
Cyclones making history -- On Dec. 14, the Cincinnati Cyclones will use an all-female off-ice officiating crew in their game against the Johnstown Chiefs. Cincinnati will wear pink jerseys that night and auction them off afterward, with proceeds benefiting breast cancer research.
In all, a total of 25 women will work in some capacity during the game. Eight of them have battled cancer themselves, while the other 17 have had a biological relative either suffer or die from the disease.
Around the ECHL -- Las Vegas Wranglers rookie goaltender Daniel Manzato was named the Saver of the Month for November after going 5-0-0 with a 1.57 GAA. … Cincinnati’s Jean-Michel Doust was tabbed the Player of the Month after scoring 11 goals and 10 assists in 14 games. He also had a plus-12 rating. … Cyclones center David Desharnais was named the Rookie of the Month after notching 20 points and a plus-15 rating in 14 games. Desharnais is only 5-foot-6. … The Charlotte Checkers dealt forward Mike Falk to the Johnstown Chiefs in exchange for future considerations. He had one assist in four games after being acquired from Mississippi on Nov. 24. … The Phoenix Roadrunners acquired defenseman Bryan Nathe from the Victoria Salmon Kings, with future considerations headed to the ECHL’s only Canadian team. … The South Carolina Stingrays dealt rookie forward Bryan Esner to the Pensacola Ice Pilots for defenseman Derrick Byfuglien. … The Reading Royals acquired goalie Terry Denike from the Wheeling Nailers for future considerations and dealt netminder Jeff Pietrasiak to the Bakersfield Condors for the same price.