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Kalamazoo Wings qualify for ECHL playoffs with assist from Abbotsford Canucks

Wings competing in the Kelly Cup playoffs for the first time in five years
The Kalamazoo Wings celebrate a goal during ECHL action. (Kalamazoo Wings photo)

For the first time since 2018-19, the Kalamazoo Wings are in the ECHL playoffs – and the Abbotsford Canucks have played a significant role in their affiliate’s best season in years.

The Wings and the Canucks entered into a partnership last summer. It marked the fourth separate time the two had agreed to work together, as they previously had arrangements from 1984 to 1987, 2011 to 2015 and 2017 to 2021.

RELATED: Kalamazoo Wings, Canucks re-enter affiliate partnership

Kalamazoo partnered with the Columbus Blue Jackets (AHL - Cleveland Monsters) from 2021 to 2023, while the Canucks did not have an ECHL affiliate during that time.

The Wings finished the 2023-24 season as the sixth seed in the ECHL’s Western Conference and compiled a record of 38-30-4. Kalamazoo head coach Joel Martin said he’s glad to bring playoff hockey back.

“Overall it was a solid season,” he said. “It’s our first time in the playoffs in five years so that’s a huge positive and a big step forward. We feel like Abbotsford had a big hand in that and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to partner up with them again. They provided us with more depth than we’ve had over the past couple of years and that was a huge help.”

Martin shared that last year, while working under an affiliate deal with Columbus, the Wings had a total of five players loaned to them who appeared in a total of 85 games. This season saw Abbotsford loan seven players for a total of 272 games. He said that type of help makes a big difference in success for an ECHL franchise.

But the help went both ways, as the Wings initially had forward Ty Glover to start the season. Glover was acquired by the Canucks from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Mark Friedman in exchange for Jack Rathbone and Karel Plasek back in October.

Glover reported to Kalamazoo and recorded 23 points in 15 games before being called up to Abbotsford. He’s played 36 games in the AHL and has seven points and has transformed into an effective forward for the Canucks.

“I think he’s still like eighth on our team in scoring,” Martin joked of Glover. “He was huge for us, especially at the beginning of the year when we were struggling – he really helped us turn our season around. It was great to see him go up and have that confidence in his game from playing here and run with that opportunity.”

Abbotsford forward Cooper Walker and defenceman Chad Nychuk also spent time in Kalamazoo this season and contributed.

“Cooper is a bit of puppy, just 21 years old and sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get out of a kid like that,” Martin said. “But he was just a reliable hockey player for us. He was playing penalty kill for us and would be out there for big face off draws. He did a fantastic job as a young kid and has earned their trust up there.”

Martin said Nychuk has become a better defender at the pro level after his time in Kalamazoo. He noted that he was regarded as an offensive defenceman in junior, but has developed into more well-rounded pro.

Walker had 13 points in 36 games with the Wings, while Nychuk had 12 points in 24 games. Walker has one goal in 12 games with Abbotsford, while Nychuk has three points in 13 AHL games.

RELATED: Abbotsford Canucks sign four players to AHL deals

Martin said he’s also received big contributions from Canucks-contracted players Josh Passolt, Derek Daschke, Michal Joyaux and Jonathan Lemieux. All four of those players were signed to one-year AHL deals by the Canucks in August.

Passolt is second in team scoring with 50 points in 61 games, while Daschke has been the top-scoring defenceman on the Wings with 38 points in 72 games. His 16 goals were tied for second in the ECHL. Joyaux also provided offence from the back end, with 32 points in 56 games.

Lemieux finished with a record of 17-16-3, a goals against average of 2.84 and a save percentage of .911. The Wings played with a tandem for most of the season, with Lemieux playing 39 games and Hunter Vorva playing in 35.

The Wings were led by forward Erik Bradford, who recorded 87 points in 72 games – good for second in scoring in the ECHL. Bradford was named a second team all-star for his efforts. Martin also pointed out that unsigned rookie forward David Keefer had a strong season with 17 goals and 48 points in 69 games.

Martin said he speaks to Abbotsford management on a weekly basis and would consider this first season to be a success.

“We were with Vancouver prior to this for a long time so there was a relationship and some trust built up already,” he said. “So when Ryan Johnson [Abbotsford Canucks general manager] called us it was a no-brainer and the transition has been seamless. We didn’t miss a beat and the communication has been great.”

He added that there was an option in the initial deal for a one-year extension between the two organizations, and those talks should be happening soon.

The Wings open the ECHL first round best-of-seven series on the road against the Toledo Walleye on Friday (April 19). For more on the team, visit

Ben Lypka

About the Author: Ben Lypka

I joined the Abbotsford News in 2015.
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