The rumours have been flying all summer that the ECHL and the CHL, the two prominent “AA” Minor League Hockey organizations in North America were headed for a merger. Finally, the news came out, with seven teams from the Central Hockey League added to the membership of the ECHL, essentially folding the CHL. The teams added: Brampton Beast, Wichita Thunder, Tulsa Oilers, Missouri Mavericks, Allen Americans, Quad City Mallards and the Rapid City Rush.
The seven expansion teams will begin play in the ECHL this season, giving the League 28 teams in 20 states and one Canadian province for its 27th season of operation, which begins on Friday, Oct. 17 and runs through Saturday, April 11.
The applicants were approved at a special meeting of the ECHL Board of Governors in Chicago on Tuesday.
“The ECHL is very pleased to welcome these new Members to the League,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. “These additions strengthen our base in the center of the country and give the ECHL, for the first time, a true national presence. It expands our ability to act as a development league and more closely aligns our number of teams with both the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League.
“There will be logistical challenges in the short term, however, in the long term, it is certainly in the best interest of the ECHL, the new Members and minor-league hockey in general,” McKenna added.
Updates to the 2014-15 ECHL playing schedule, divisional alignment and the format for the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs will be released at a later date.
The CHL had been made up of nine teams at the end of the 2013-14 season. Both the Arizona Sundogs and Denver Cutthroats suspended operations for the 14-15 season, with the expectation to return, it appears now as members of the expanded ECHL. The Las Vegas Wranglers, an ECHL member team also temporarily suspended operations for the 14-15 season after difficulties arose in securing a home arena. With the addition of these three teams in the 2015-16 season, the ECHL would sit at 31 teams, however there have been numerous discussions of the AHL pushing out west, driven by the NHL Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings desire to have their AHL affiliates closer at hand. (see: Bill Ballou, Telegram, Travis Hughes, SBNation for an insight to the discussion) Could the LA Kings take the Ontario Reign as their AHL affiliate? Will Stockton be brought into the fold of the San Jose Sharks? The minor league hockey map will be interesting to follow as the new season plays out, and the landscape may look different come this time next season.