Don’t call it the East Coast Hockey League. Since absorbing the West Coast Hockey League in 2003, the ‘Coast is gone leaving just “ECHL.” Think the Artist Formally Known as Prince with looser fitting pants (and much less guitar skill). I have a soft spot in my heart for the ECHL after watching nearly every Charlotte Checkers home game between 2001 and 2010. One season in the 2005ish era I managed to see over 80% of their total games in said season. I’ve been to eight of the 20 arenas currently in use in the league, and eleven more that are no longer associated with the league. So with a little nostalgia on the brain, I present to you the 2010-11 ECHL season.
The 2010 offseason was a sad one for the ECHL, as the Johnstown Chiefs announced they would not return to Johnstown. The last continually operating original ECHL team would be absent. The home of Slap Shot, which had housed a pro hockey team in all but eight seasons since 1950, is now vacant. The league also lost the Charlotte Checkers after seventeen seasons as they moved up to the AHL. Despite only losing two teams, they were crucially located teams from a geographic sense. The divisions both Charlotte and Johnstown resided within were now down to three teams each. Lucky for the South Division, Charlotte’s absence was replaced when Johnstown announced they would move to Greenville (SC) to become the Road Warriors. Unfortunately for Elmira (NY), Reading (PA), and Trenton (NJ) this left them to play the season in a three team division.
Two teams dominated the regular 10-11 ECHL season: out west the Alaska Aces finished with 97 points, while newcomer Greenville was hot right out of the gate and finished at the 96 point mark. The Road Warriors (decimated by AHL callups from their dual affiliation with the Rangers & Flyers) were upset in the second round by #4 seed Wheeling, who then lost to the Kalamazoo Wings for a trip to the Kelly Cup Finals. The Aces had earned a first round bye with their dominance of the west. They lost one game, game 3 versus the Wings, before taking the Kelly Cup with their 12th postseason win. Aces starting goalie Gerald Coleman posted an 11-1 record with a .938 Sv% & 1.73 GAA. They outscored opponents 47-24 in one of the more lopsided ECHL playoffs in history.
The 2011 offseason shows a little bit of a rebound in participation for the ECHL. The Chicago Express are beginning play in 2011 after having the franchise announced last off-season. The Colorado Eagles are also joining after losing a seven game finals in the CHL. As is often seen when one team moves, the WHL’s relocation of Chilliwack (BC) to Victoria (BC) obviously trickles down to the the ECHL’s presence in Victoria. The Salmon Kings turned in their franchise to the league leaving a twenty team league for 2011-12. The league is still holding onto the dormant Columbia (SC) Inferno as they await completion of a new arena. Bear in mind the ECHL’s take on Columbia is far more positive than the reality of the Inferno’s arena, which isn’t built.
Further success for the ECHL is certain given their strong affiliations with the AHL and NHL (Adobe required). The only concern I have for the new markets lies with Chicago. The UHL had the Hounds there and they failed miserably. While the ECHL is far above where the UHL was in 2007, there are still the NHL Blackhawks, AHL Wolves, USHL Steel, and NAHL Hitmen saturating the greater Chicago metro market. Perhaps the ECHL will garner more attention from fans, but Chitown and the ECHL seems like a treacherous match. Regardless, the ECHL will continue to prosper as the primary AA developmental hockey league going forward.