The Allen Americans, which gave us Stars defenseman Jordie Benn, and the Central Hockey League, where Dallas forward Ryan Garbutt sharpened his skates, are part of a seven-team migration into the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), it was announced recently.
The two time defending CHL President’s Cup champion Americans and its six (former) CHL rivals are now part of the ECHL. The Americans, who open the 2014-15 ECHL season on Friday, October 24 against Tulsa at Allen Even Centre with a 7 p.m. puck drop, are joined by the Brampton (Ontario) Beast, Missouri Mavericks (coached by former Amerks assistant coach and Dallas Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk), Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder. The teams will play all but five games against their (former) CHL rivals in accordance with the CHL schedule that was released during the summer. Allen will play ECHL foes during a January 23-25 road trip at Indianapolis, Toledo and Kalamazoo, respectively, and a Feb. 10-11 two-day jaunt to Ontario, California to play the Reign.
Both the CHL and ECHL are Double-A equivalent leagues whose players aspire to advance to the American Hockey League (AHL) and, eventually, the National Hockey League.
“The move to the ECHL provides a tremendous amount of stability and security for our teams moving forward,” said Allen Americans Owner Rodney Steven. “There is no question that joining forces with the ECHL to create one, premier league, provides strength and viability for our teams. This is a historic move and I think all of our fans are going to be extremely excited about the level of competition they’re going to see on the ice.”
The seven CHL clubs, who will comprise the Central Division of the East Coast League’s Western Conference, were approved as ECHL members at a special meeting of the league’s Board of Governors in Chicago last week.
The top four teams in each division during the regular season will qualify for the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs, the first round pitting the first and fourth and the second and third place finishers against each other. The second round will be played to determine who emerges from the division, with the third round matching up the survivors from the Central and Pacific Divisions in the Western Conference, and the East and North Divisions in the Eastern Conference. The Finals will see the Eastern and Western champs vie for the trophy. All playoff series will be best-of seven formats.
The Pacific Division’s members are the Idaho Steelheads (the Dallas Stars’ ECHL affiliate), Alaska Aces, Bakersfield Condors, Colorado Eagles, Ontario (California) Reign, Stockton Thunder, and Utah Grizzlies.
The ECHL’s Eastern Conference includes the North Division (Cincinnati Cyclones, Evansville IceMen (coached by former Americans’ bench boss Dwight Mullins), Fort Wayne Komets, Indy Fuel, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye, and Wheeling Nailers) and East Division (Elmire Jackals, Florida Everblades, Greenville Road Warriors, Gwinnett Gladiators, Orlando Solar Bears, Reading Royals, and South Carolina Stingrays).
“We are thrilled to be stepping up to a league like the ECHL that has such a rich history and outstanding record of developing top-level talent,” said Matt Canavan, President of the Allen Americans. “We are all looking forward to setting up affiliations that will provide our players with the very best opportunities to further their careers and achieve their dreams of reaching the NHL.”
The CHL was formed in 2002-03 with 16 teams in four divisions, and grew in 2003-05 to 17 teams in four divisions. The circuit boasted as many as 18 squads in two divisions as recently as 2010-11, the Americans’ second season of existence before that number dwindled to 14, then 10 in each of the last two campaigns, and its present configuration of seven teams.
The ECHL began play in 1988-89 with five teams in four states and has grown into a nationwide circuit league. The leagues boasts 541 players who have skated in the National Hockey League, including 29 who made their NHL debuts in the 2013-14 season. The ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 30 NHL teams last season, its 26th. Its alumni who have played in the NHL numbers 541 and includes goalies Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas, forwards Rich Peverley and P.A. Parenteau, and player and coach Dan Bylsma.