The Men Behind the Mask

Published by Michael Keeley, Maine Mariners Media Relations and Broadcast Manager

Hannu Toivonen during his first Mariners start in Worcester on December 29th, 2018. Photo credit: Edward Jacobs

The Mariners opened training camp with three goaltenders: Brandon Halverson, Chris Nell, and Connor LaCouvee. As of January 9th, none of the above are on the roster. Halverson and LaCouvee are in the AHL, and Nell was reassigned within the ECHL due to the exceptional play of the other two. It's the nature of the ECHL as a whole, as the Mariners have experienced across all three positions (forward, defense, and goaltending) this season. In the final week of 2018, the Mariners signed former Boston Bruin and first round pick Hannu Toivonen, who has quickly elevated up the depth chart as the top option available. So how did it happen and who exactly are the men behind the mask?


Halverson was clearly the #1 option coming out of camp. At 6'4, the 2014 second round draft pick of the Rangers fits the modern goalie mold perfectly. With 30+ AHL games under his belt, and even an NHL debut in February of 2018, it was no surprise when Halverson got the nod on opening night against Adirondack. But Halverson struggled out of the gate, going winless in his first four starts, allowing 14 goals along the way. Things started to turn on November 9th when the Mariners beat Worcester 3-2 in OT on the road. That was the first of six straight victorious starts for Halverson, who has stayed at an elite level since. Since his 0-3-1 start, he's 13-5-0 and ranks in the top 5 among all ECHL goaltenders in wins, saves, and save percentage. Finally, in what seemed like an inevitability, he was called up to Hartford on January 7th. It's his third career stint with the Wolf Pack. Halverson, who was born in the hockey-crazed city of Traverse City, Michigan, took the Canadian Junior track to the pros, playing for the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL from 2013-16. Foreshadowing his pro career, Halverson was a workhorse for the Soo, starting 50 and 43 games respectively in his last two years of Juniors. The Rangers called his name 59th overall in the second round of the 2014 draft.


The Mariners signed LaCouvee out of NCAA DI Minnesota State-Mankato where he had a tremendous Senior season in 17-18, posting the third best GAA (1.80) and the fourth most wins (23) in the nation. He had played his first three college seasons at Boston University, but never found regular playing time there. LaCouvee signed on with the Mariners in July, and forced them to carry three goalies out of camp and beyond, when he won the first two games in franchise history. He beat the Newfoundland Growlers with 32 saves on October 21st, and then defeated Manchester three days later with a 36 save effort. His strong play earned him an AHL look with the Utica Comets, where he got into three games, but just one start. After briefly returning to Maine, the AHL came calling again on December 27th when the Laval Rocket were in need. LaCouvee is  a native of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia and played Juniors for three different BCHL organizations: the Cowichan Valley Capitals, Merritt Centennials, and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. His numbers at B.U. were more than respectable, including a .921 SV% in his final year there, but Mankato was his coming out party, where he was the clear #1.


Nell is also under contract with the Rangers, and began the season as the #2 option for the Mariners, but also struggled to start the season, giving up nine goals in his first two starts - losses to Reading and Manchester. Nell was responsible for the team's first road win when he beat Reading on November 7th, and then played well in Brampton on November 16th when he stopped 43 of 46 shots, but he became the odd man out once LaCouvee returned. The Rangers reassigned Nell to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, where he spent part of last season (one of his three ECHL stops). He's found a home in Greenville and is having a solid season, with 8 wins, a 2.57 GAA, and a .917 SV%. Nell's from Green Bay, Wisconsin and took the USHL-to-NCAA path from the Chicago Steel to Bowling Green State University, where he holds the school record in shutouts (11), save percentage (.922), and GAA (2.07).


Fans of New England hockey were well aware of who Toivonen was when the Mariners announced his signing the same day LaCouvee was loaned to Laval. A first round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2002, the Finnish tender played significant time in the black and gold from 2005-07 when he appeared in 38 games and picked up 12 wins. His 05-06 year was much better than 06-07, with nine of those 12 wins and a 2.36 GAA. Part of 06-07 was spent in AHL Providence, playing in some of the same buildings that now host ECHL North Division teams - the Cross Insurance Arena included. Toivonen then went to St. Louis and made 17 starts with the Blues in 07-08, but had a below-average season with six wins and 3.44 GAA. That three year span would encompass Toivonen's entire NHL career, but he never stopped playing. Stops in AHL Peoria and Rockford followed as well as a season in the Finnish Elite League (Liiga). After playing the 2011-12 season in Sweden, he returned to North America to join the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears and then the Toledo Walleye. After two brief AHL loans to Milwaukee and Iowa, it was back to Europe, where Toivonen played until Riley Armstrong finally came calling. Toivonen played against both Armstrong and Danny Briere along his journey, and resides in Falmouth with his wife and two children, adding more intrigue to his already very interesting story.


As the Mariners embarked for Canada on the morning of Monday, January 7th, Riley Armstrong had to scramble to find an EBUG (emergency backup goaltender) for the games in Newfoundland and potentially Brampton. While all teams are required to assist one other with EBUG options in their market, this was an even easier call for Riley, who is close friends and former teammates (and roommates) with Growlers head coach Ryane Clowe.

A.J. Whiffen is the go-to EBUG on the Rock and the backup of choice for the trip. Whiffen plays for his hometown Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts in the CWSHL (Central West Senior A Hockey League), one of a variety of semi-pro leagues throughout Canada for players who have aged out of Junior eligibility. He played in the Saskatchewan Junior League for Weyburn, and played Canadian University for Regina. Just finished with carpentry school, he waits patiently for his next assignment - for the Growlers or a team visiting the scenic island. All for the love of the game. He knows he's unlikely to see the ice beyond practice and warmups, but he keeps a smile and great sense of humor. Just like everyone else between the pipes, he's just a man behind a mask, with a story to tell.