It is my pleasure to welcome you to what promises to be a very exciting season in the ECHL, America’s Premier “AA” Hockey League and the largest league in professional hockey with 31 teams in 17 states.
The ECHL welcomes nine new markets for 2003-04, including six from the former West Coast Hockey League, with the addition of the Alaska Aces, the Bakersfield Condors, the Fresno Falcons, the Gwinnett (Georgia) Gladiators, the Idaho (Boise) Steelheads, the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Long Beach Ice Dogs, the San Diego Gulls, and the Texas (Beaumont) Wildcatters. These additions give the ECHL a national footprint and a clear focus to bring fans from coast to coast the best in ‘AA’ hockey action.
Every team begins the season with the goal of winning the Patrick J. Kelly Cup, presented annually to the Postseason Champion of the ECHL. We congratulate the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies on capturing the Kelly Cup in 2003 and the Toledo Storm for winning the Brabham Cup, presented annually to the Regular Season Points Champion.
Hosted by the Peoria Rivermen and presented by the Par-A-Dice Hotel & Casino, the 2004 Par-A-Dice ECHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition will be held January 20-21, 2004. We hope that you will be able to join us for the 12th Annual ECHL All-Star Game as the Eastern Conference All-Stars host the Western Conference All-Stars at the Carver Arena at Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois.
The ECHL surpassed a milestone in 2002-03 as the 200th former ECHL player advanced to the National Hockey League. Twenty former ECHL players made their first-ever NHL appearances in 2002-03 and 90 former ECHL alums played in the NHL last season. In addition to 217 former players, the ECHL has had on-ice officials, front-office personnel and coaches advance to the NHL. Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy and veteran linesman Tim Nowak, who worked the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, both began their careers in the ECHL. For the fourth consecutive year, a former ECHL player is a member of the Stanley Cup Champion. In 2003, New Jersey backup goaltender Corey Schwab became the latest ECHL alumnus to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The ECHL had affiliation agreements with 22 of the 28 teams in the American Hockey League in 2002-03, and there were more than 80 players in the ECHL on AHL contracts. The ECHL had 450 call ups to the AHL in 2002-03, more than any other professional league, and for the 14th consecutive year, a former ECHL player was a member of the AHL Calder Cup Champion. In 2003, Houston had five former ECHL players including playoff MVP Johan Holmqvist on its roster.
Thirty-five former ECHL players competed in the 2003 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championships. The ECHL had a representative on 13 of the 16 teams competing, including Martin Biron, who was a member of Team Canada, which captured the gold medal.
The ECHL will continue its commitment to provide its fans with affordable quality entertainment in a family environment. Our theme for the upcoming season is “Focus on the Fan” to better understand what our fan base wants and to make every effort to provide it.
On behalf of the ECHL and its members, I thank you for your continued support and hope that you enjoy the 2003-04 season.