Last summer was the first time in Ryan Kinasewich
's career that he was an unrestricted free agent.
The Utah Grizzlies left the light on for him.
Barring an opportunity at a higher level, there was no doubt he was going to follow it back home. After four great years there and a nightmare ending to last season, what else could be as comforting?
"Yeah, I've been here awhile. If feels like home to me," said Kinasewich, 26. "I like to stay loyal to these guys. They've given me everything I've ever asked for. Why go away from a good thing?"
Especially when Kinasewich keeps matching Utah's support in kind with his production.
Kinasewich has started this season on a typically torrid pace, posting 13 goals and 7 assists in his first nine games and earning ECHL player of the month honors in October. Overall, Kinasewich has seven multiple-point games and leads the ECHL in points, goals, shots (56) and game-winning goals (4) on the season.
That's the kind of domination that has Kinasewich approaching offensive heights never reached before in the team's 15-year history.
On Oct. 24, he took over as the franchise's all-time leader in goals, with 112 (he now has 121 and counting). He is also five points away from Chris Taylor
's all-time mark of 278.
"It's never really been in my mind until this year," Kinasewich said. "It's a nice sense of accomplishment. Coming into this year, I feel more in control of my game. It's never easy. But as you get older, you find different ways to get the puck to guys."
That's been Kinasewich's habit since his first shift in Utah, where he's always chipped in an average of well more than a point per game (273 in 188 contests). His AHL chances have been limited, though, bottoming out in a well of disappointment with Hamilton last year.
Kinasewich played seven games with the Bulldogs, finally getting top-six forward minutes. In his seventh game, against the Syracuse Crunch on Feb. 22, he scored his first goal with Hamilton and then hurt his knee on the very next shift. He was out for the rest of the season.
"Sometimes it's really frustrating. But you just have to stick with it, show the coaches and management up there you are patient and willing to stick with it," he said. "With the numbers I'm putting up now, it's just a matter of time. I like to keep a positive mindset. Hopefully the time will come, and it will come sooner rather than later."
Attendance holding strong
-- Even in tough times, ECHL action is remaining a must-see entertainment option.
After last weekend, the league raised its average attendance to 4,385 per game to lead all of minor professional hockey. That figure is 8.7 percent ahead of its average for the first four weeks in 2008-09.
The upward trends are everywhere. Cincinnati had the second-largest regular season crowd in team history with 10,920 on Nov. 5. The Cyclones are third in the league with 5,889 fans per game, an increase of 89.7 percent from last season.
Elmira had its league-leading fourth sellout and the largest crowd in team history with 4,325 on Nov. 5. The Jackals have sold out four of their first five games and are averaging 3,943 per game, which is 104.2 percent of capacity at First Arena and up 18.3 percent from last season.
More than 16,000 attended “Thunder Goes Pink 4” on Nov. 5-6 to help Stockton move back into first place at the gate with 7,096 per game, an increase of 14.1 percent from 2008-09. Toledo had its third sellout and second-largest crowd of the year with 7,442 on Nov. 6. The Walleye are second in the league with 6,466 per game which, up almost 65 percent from 2006-07 when the team played its last season in the Toledo Sports Arena.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said the league has tried to counter the challenging economic climate in many of its markets by amping up the aggressiveness of its marketing. He said teams have been told to keep stressing the affordability of their product, and to engage in the use of new media forms.
Promotions are growing more innovative all the time, and McKenna said teams are also increasingly aware of the importance of not just dreaming them up but executing them well.
"Yeah, I've been here awhile. If feels like home to me. I like to stay loyal to these guys. They've given me everything I've ever asked for. Why go away from a good thing?"
-- Ryan Kinasewich
"We have a number of teams working very hard and promoting the value you get for the ticket. In this economy, we have to make sure that resonates with people," he said. "It's trying new things, some of which work, some don't. Teams are being very creative, (with) a solid focus on ticket sales."
Crazy like a Fox
-- Forward Jordan Fox
's attempt to make a good first impression in Wheeling was delayed when he suffered a shoulder injury on the third shift of his first game with the Nailers on Oct. 16.
On the brighter side, he figures maybe a few weeks off the ice spared his new fans an unimpressive first glimpse.
"I'm usually a pretty slow starter," he reasoned. "But I think having those weeks off from injury, my slow start was gone. That was my slow start."
As mangled as that logic might sound, Fox, 25, could be on to something. There is nothing sluggish about his game now. Fox returned to Wheeling on Nov. 6 and potted a goal vs. South Carolina. The next night, against Johnstown, he upped the ante with a goal and two helpers.
That's the kind of pace that had Fox atop the Gwinnett scoring charts last season (29-38) and that the Nailers hoped to import when they traded for him in September.
"To tell you the truth, I was pretty nervous my first game back. It's one of those things where you never know if you will come back right away (and score) or go six games without points," he said. "I don't think my conditioning was 100 percent for the weekend, but I think I battled through that."
Around the ECHL
-- Defenseman Shaun Heshka
has become the first former Salmon Kings player to skate in an NHL game when he played for Phoenix against Anaheim on Nov. 7. ... Center Ryan O'Marra
became the fifth former Stockton player to skate in the NHL when he played for Edmonton against Ottawa on Nov. 10. ... Gwinnett hit season highs in shots in consecutive games over the weekend, putting 42 on net Nov. 6 against Florida and then snapping that mark with 49 shots the next day against Kalamazoo. ... Reading has scored on eight of 10 attempts in its last two shootout wins…Utah began the week as the only team unbeaten on the road at 4-0-0. The Grizzlies have scored a goal in every road period this season. ... Wheeling recorded its 87th win against Johnstown on Nov. 7, the most wins for any ECHL team against a single opponent. ... After giving up seven goals on 19 shots in just 40 minutes in his pro debut vs. Ontario on Oct. 17, Bakersfield goalie Timo Pielmeier
has put up a 2.30 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. ... Five Kalamazoo players were recalled in a span of five days last week. ... Johnstown traded center Ryan Del Monte
to the Cincinnati Cyclones in exchange for forward Bryan Marshall
on Nov 10. ... Reading's Jared Ross
scored his first pro goal in the second period vs. South Carolina on Nov. 8, and he followed that up by potting his second goal in the third. In his four years at St. Lawrence University, Ross scored twenty-two goals in a total of 134 games.