ECHL-CHL Merger Could Help Minor League Structure For North American Hockey
The ECHL BOG yesterday approved membership for seven former CHL squads. The Allen (TX) Americans, Brampton (Ontario) Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City (SD) Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder will begin play in the ECHL this season, giving the league 28 teams (ECHL). SI.com's Allan Muir writes the ECHL-CHL merger could be the "first of several moves that lead to a significant shakeup of the minor league hockey structure" in North America. Several NHL Western Conference teams, including the Kings, Ducks and Sharks, have "expressed concerns with the expense, time and travel barriers that come with having AHL teams based on the East Coast." It is "believed that there have been discussions that would see some teams from the current ECHL ... jump up a level to the AHL." It is expected that the ECHL-CHL circuit "will retain the ECHL moniker." An ECHL team source "expects that the four division/two conference ECHL will play out its previously announced slate of 72 games." The CHL clubs would "likely add six games to their current 66-game schedules and play out of a self-contained Central Conference that would see no regular-season crossover play with current ECHL teams." Geographically, logical realignment could "then be addressed" ahead of the '15-16 season (SI.com, 10/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Chris Peters wrote minor-league hockey is a "tough business, so it's nice to see the ECHL making this work and keep seven teams alive, leaving more opportunities for players to play high-level hockey in North America and creating entertainment for smaller cities and towns that want hockey" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/7).
JUST THE BEGINNING: In Wichita, Jeffrey Lutz notes the CHL "has crumbled over the last two seasons, dwindling from 14 teams" in '11-12 to 10 each of the past two years. It was to "drop to seven this season." Thunder GM Joel Lomurno said, "We’re now in a national league that stretches throughout the country. ... A lot to be excited about" (WICHITA EAGLE, 10/8). In Quad Cities, Bobby Metcalf writes the merger figures to be the "start of a streamlining of minor league hockey with the ECHL become the sole AA league with affiliations" with the AHL and NHL, "much like the model of professional baseball" (QUAD-CITY TIMES, 10/8). In Indiana, Justin Cohn notes the death of the IHL in '01 "left the AHL as the only Triple-A hockey league." Several Double-A leagues have "folded or been absorbed by other leagues -- including the reincarnated IHL, the UHL, the Western Professional Hockey League and the West Coast Hockey League" (Ft. Wayne JOURNAL GAZETTE, 10/8).