HOUGHTON, Mich. – Five former Michigan Tech hockey players are on three ECHL teams for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Tyler Heinonen and Eric Kattelus play for the Kalamazoo Wings, Chris Leibinger and Alex Petan are on the Quad City Mallards roster, and CJ Eick plays for the Utah Grizzlies.
Kalamazoo takes on the Toledo Walleye in the best-of-seven Central Division Semifinals, which kicks off on Friday (April 14) at the Huntington Center in Toledo. It is the first time in the teams' ECHL history that they will square off in a playoff series.
Heinonen signed with the Wings on March 29 after appearing in 122 games in a Husky uniform from 2013-17. The forward from Delano, Minnesota, had 66 career points at Tech on 38 goals and 28 assists. Heinonen appeared in five games for the Wings this season, tallying three points with a goal and an assist—all on March 31 against the Florida Everblades.
Kattelus has played in 60 games for the Wings and is tied for fifth on the team with 40 points on seven goals and 33 assists. He serves as an assistant captain. The defenseman from Traverse City, Michigan, is in his sixth season of professional hockey after playing in 87 career games at Tech from 2007-11. Kattelus had 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) in a Black and Gold uniform.
The Mallards open their best-of-seven Central Division semifinal series against the Fort Wayne Komets on the road Friday. The Mallards have qualified for the playoffs for the third time in as many seasons since entering the ECHL, for the fifth year in a row including their final two Central Hockey League campaigns and for the sixth time in the last seven years. The Mallards and Komets are set for their fourth all-time playoff meeting and their first in 14 years. The two clubs last met in the postseason when the Komets defeated the Mallards four games to one in the 2003 United Hockey League Colonial Cup finals.
Leibinger, a native of Saginaw, Michigan, played four seasons (2013-17) for the Huskies, appearing in 158 games before signing with the Mallards on March 30. He had 35 career points on 13 goals and 22 assists, including a breakout offensive season this year with nine goals and six assists. Leibinger played his first three seasons on the defense before transitioning to a forward for 34 of 45 games as a senior and was a three-time WCHA All-Academic Team selection. He played five games for the Mallards at the end of the regular season.
Former Tech All-American and WCHA Player of the Year Alex Petan is an assistant captain for the Mallards, racking up 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 45 games during the regular season. The forward from Delta, British Columbia had 135 career points at Tech from 2012-15, scoring 59 goals and adding 76 assists in 153 games. He was a three-time All-WCHA selection and three-time WCHA All-Academic Team member.
The Grizzlies square off against the Mountain Division, and two-time defending league champion, Allen Americans in the first round. The Americans won the Mountain Division with a 49-17-4-2 record this season, while the Grizzlies finished fourth at 36-29-5-2. The Grizzlies, who were 14 points out of the final playoff spot in January, finished the regular season with 23 wins in their final 39 games to clinch a 10th consecutive postseason appearance. Allen won Game One 4-3 on Wednesday (April 12) to get the series started.
C.J. Eick, who scored two goals in the regular season finale talked about the series, "We're going to have to play our game, we know we have what it takes to win. We have the goaltending in (Ryan) Faragher and (Kevin) Boyle and we know that if we stick together as a club and believe in ourselves, we can be successful."
Eick was a three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete who played 108 career games for the Huskies from 2012-16. He had 11 goals and 22 assists as a Husky. Through 64 games this season, the Appleton, Wisconsin native has 10 goals and 11 assists for the Grizzlies.
Central Division Semifinals • Kalamazoo Wings vs. Toledo Walleye
• Game 1: Friday, April 14 @ Toledo, 7:35 p.m.
• Game 2: Saturday, April 15 @ Toledo, 7:35 p.m.
• Game 3: Tuesday, April 18 @ Kalamazoo, 7 p.m.
• Game 4: Wednesday, April 19 @ Kalamazoo, 7 p.m.
• Game 5: Friday, April 21 @ Toledo, 7:35 p.m.*
• Game 6: Sunday, April 23 @ Kalamazoo, 3 p.m.*
• Game 7: Tuesday, April 25 @ Toledo, 7:35 p.m.*
Central Division Semifinals • Quad City Mallards vs. Fort Wayne Komets
• Game 1: Friday, April 14 @ Fort Wayne, 8 p.m.
• Game 2: Saturday, April 15 @ Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.
• Game 3: Wednesday, April 19 @ Quad City, 7:35 p.m.
• Game 4: Friday, April 21 @ Quad City, 8:05 p.m.
• Game 5: Saturday, April 22 @ Quad City, 8:05 p.m.*
• Game 6: Monday, April 24 @ Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.*
• Game 7: Wednesday, April 26 @ Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m.*
Mountain Division Semifinals • Utah Grizzlies vs. Allen Americans
• Game 1: Wednesday, April 12 @ Allen, 8 p.m. // Allen won 4-3
• Game 2: Friday, April 14 @ Allen, 8 p.m.
• Game 3: Wednesday, April 19 @ Utah, 9 p.m.
• Game 4: Friday, April 21 @ Utah, 9 p.m.
• Game 5: Saturday, April 22 @ Utah, 9 p.m.*
• Game 6: Monday, April 24 @ Allen, 8 p.m.*
• Game 7: Tuesday, April 25 @ Allen, 8 p.m.*