GLENS FALLS – There is no ECHL rule that says a team must have a certain number of players from nearby colleges. It just ended up that way for the Adirondack Thunder.
Both of their goalies have local ties: Union College graduate Alex Sakellaropoulos and Skidmore College graduate Brandon Kasel.
It wasn’t a good year for the Thunder, whose season ends Sunday and who didn’t qualify for the upcoming playoffs, but little of that can be put at the feet of Sakellaropoulos and Kasel, who kept the team in a lot of games. Entering Tuesday’s game at Trois-Rivieres, Sakellaropoulos had a 10-15-1 record with a goals against average of 3.82 and an .883 save percentage. Kasel had an 8-15-1 record with a GAA of 3.58 and an .896 save percentage.
Sakellaropoulos, 27, played from 2013 to 2017 for Union and was a member of the 2014 national championship team. He played 82 games and had a 40-22-13 record with a 2.54 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
Kasel, 26, played for Skidmore from 2016-2020. He also played 82 games with a 31-39-7 record, 2.63 GAA and .918 save percentage. He was named to the All-NEHC third team his senior season.
This is Sakellaropoulos’ second stint with the Thunder, an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. He played in 33 games in the 2018-19 season and helped the team qualify for the playoffs. The season before he bounced around the ECHL and SPHL, appearing in only seven games.
Thunder coach Alex Loh saw Sakellaropoulos as someone who needed a chance to get some serious minutes.
“For whatever reason, sometimes the New Jersey Devils’ goalies can be a bit fragile, and guys get a lot of opportunity around here, and he’s a guy that was able to jump in the net and carry the mail for us my first year as head coach. He was really good,” Loh said.
“It felt a lot more comfortable here,” Sakellaropoulos said of his first season with Adirondack, “especially being 30 minutes away from where I went to school. It’s pretty nice. I knew the area pretty well, especially downtown Albany, Crossgates Mall.”
After spending the 2019-20 season with two other ECHL clubs, Sakellaropoulos had signed with Adirondack for the ‘20-’21 season, but all the Northern Division teams opted not to play because of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions in place, so he managed to get in six games with the Wichita Thunder. But he was ready to return to Glens Falls this season. He began skating over the summer at Cool Insuring Arena with a few other Thunder players in town and his goalie coach, Bryan McDonald, who also coached another goalie who had graduated from nearby Skidmore.
Kasel hoped to play in the ‘20-’21 season, but with so many teams opting not to play, veteran goalies got the chances. He moved into an Airbnb in Saratoga Springs and drove up to Glens Falls.
“I just tried to prepare myself for next year when stuff got back to normal,” Kasel said.
Loh said it was a bit of a fluke situation how Kasel landed with the Thunder.
“I knew he had been skating with a few of our guys over the summer,” Loh said. “Then the Devils didn’t end up sending a guy to Utica and they needed a guy last second, and so I reached out to Brandon and asked, ‘Hey, you interested?’ And he jumped in his car and drove to Utica for training camp.
“Seeing him there, he looked like a guy that could play at this level,” Loh continued. “We weren’t sure exactly how things were going to shake out, but we said we’d give him a shot, and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s been solid for us the majority of the year.”
Sakellaropoulos also took advantage of goalie-life’s twists and turns this season.
“The plan over the summer was to have him be our third goaltender because the Devils were going to send us two,” Loh said. “Obviously that never really transpired, so for goaltenders you’ve got to be patient sometimes, and when you get the opportunity, just dig in and take advantage.”
One thing that the goalies and Loh agreed on was that Sakellaropoulos’ and Kasel’s relationship as goalie partners has been a strong point.
“We always try to help each other off the ice, on the ice, especially with who’s playing,” Sakellaropoulos said. “Whenever a goal goes in, we talk to each other, like, ‘Hey, what do you think I should be doing differently?’ It’s nice to have another set of eyes out there, and that’s what we try to do, to get better every day. I know if I’m working hard, he’s working hard, and if he’s working hard, I’ve got to work just as hard.”
“It always makes it easier when you get along with your goalie partner, and Alex has always been a leader, a great guy in the room,” Kasel said. “I’ve learned a ton from him, and having that relationship makes it a lot more enjoyable coming to the rink and competing with him, battling.”
Loh knew Kasel could compete at the ECHL level, but he needed a little bit of time to develop, and so the coach gave him that time at the beginning of the season, sometimes keeping him as a third goalie, which is rarely done at the ECHL level.
“I had to adapt different parts of my game to get used to the speed and playmaking abilities of these guys,” Kasel said. “They’re definitely able to find the back of the net better if you give them the opportunity. I had a bunch of time at the beginning of the year to practice and get used to that, so I think it helped make my transition a lot easier.”
There aren’t many Division III players in the ECHL, but there have been enough at Adirondack over the years that it’s an area the team is happy to mine. One of the franchise’s best goalies, Drew Fielding, was a D-3 product, as is current defenseman Blake Thompson.
“D-3 has lots of good players. There are guys that fall through the cracks for whatever reason. … Sometimes they just need a shot.”
“It makes it a little bit more special when you come from a program where there hasn’t been a lot of guys going into pro hockey. Representing that and being an alumni from Skidmore is something I’ll always be proud of,” Kasel said.