PRINCETON, N.J. – The ECHL announced that its 22nd season will open with a special game on Oct. 15 when the Reading Royals host the Kalamazoo Wings, who are the newest member of the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, at the Sovereign Center.
There will be seven games from South Carolina to Alaska on Oct. 16 and nine games on Oct. 17 before the opening weekend concludes with four games on Oct. 18.
The complete schedule is available at ECHL.com.
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that will have 20 teams in 15 states and British Columbia playing 720 games from Oct. 15, 2009 to Apr. 3, 2010.
The Johnstown Chiefs have been a member of the league for all 22 seasons playing at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Wheeling returns for its 18th season and Charlotte and South Carolina each celebrate their 17th season. Toledo returns for its 16th season while Florida celebrates its 12th year and Trenton its 11th season in the ECHL.
The third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, the ECHL is the only minor professional hockey league to increase average attendance each of the last two seasons. The ECHL averaged 4,258 per game in 2008-09 which is the highest average since 2005-06 and the second-highest average in the last eight years. It is the fifth consecutive season and the 17th time in the last 19 years that the ECHL has averaged over 4,000 fans and the league drew over 3 million fans for the 16th year in a row and reached the 3 million mark in the fewest number of games since 2005-06.
The ECHL returns to Toledo following a two-year absence which allowed construction of the new state-of-the-art Lucas County Downtown Arena. The Walleye, who are projecting over 2,000 season tickets, will host the Florida Everblades on Oct. 16, Oct. 17 and 18 at the 7,500-seat facility.
South Carolina will raise its record third Kelly Cup championship banner and its third conference championship banner on Oct. 16 when it hosts the Wheeling Nailers. The Alaska Aces will hoist their second National Conference championship banner and their fourth West Division championship banner on Oct. 16 when they host Victoria. The Stingrays set a team record with 10,568 on Jan. 17 while Alaska tied its record for the eighth time with 6,451 on Feb. 27.
The Idaho Steelheads host the Stockton Thunder on Oct. 16, Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 while the Bakersfield Condors will host the Ontario Reign on Oct. 16 and 17. Bakersfield broke its single-game attendance record with 8,929 on Nov. 29, 2008 while Idaho leads the league the last six seasons with 42 sellouts.
Victoria opens its sixth season at the Save-On-Foods Centre on Oct. 21, 23 and 24 when its hosts Bakersfield while Charlotte begins its fifth season at Time Warner Cable Arena on Nov. 1 when it hosts Gwinnett. The Checkers set a team record with 12,398 on Feb. 21 while Victoria raised attendance for the fourth season in a row to a team record 4,923 per game.
Wheeling will host Cincinnati in its home opener at WesBanco Arena on Oct. 23 while Kalamazoo will welcome Reading to Wings Stadium on Oct. 24 and 25 and Florida will host Charlotte on Oct. 23 and 24. Wheeling increased attendance more than three percent to 2,923 per game while professional hockey has been played in Kalamazoo since 1974-75. The Everblades have finished in the top three in attendance the last 10 years after finishing fourth in their first year.
Stockton will host Ontario for its home opener on Oct. 23 and the Reign will host Las Vegas in their home opener on Oct. 30. Utah will host Idaho for its home opener on Oct. 23 and Cincinnati will host Wheeling on Oct. 24.
Stockton led the league with 6,218 per game and 223,854 fans in 2008-09 becoming the first team to lead the ECHL in attendance four years in a row since Florida led the league for a record five straight years from 2000-05. The Thunder have had 13 capacity crowds at the 9,737-seat Stockton Arena in their first four seasons. Ontario, which drew more than 27,000 for its final three home games including a team record 9,659 on Mar. 7, finished second in the league in its first season with 5,856 per game.
Cincinnati led the ECHL and ranked second in professional hockey with an attendance increase of more than 23 percent to 3,104 per game. The Cyclones, who had a team record crowd of 11,417 on Apr. 4, have increased attendance by 68 percent since 2006-07 and they led professional hockey in 2007-08 with an increase of more than 36 percent.
The Ontario Reign, the City of Ontario and Citizens Business Bank Arena will host the 18th Annual ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 20, 2010 and the 13th Annual All-Star Skills Competition on Jan. 19, 2010.
The division alignments for 2009-10 as unanimously approved by the Board of Governors at their annual meetings will be:
American Conference – East Division
Elmira Jackals, Johnstown Chiefs, Reading Royals and Trenton Devils
American Conference – North Division
Cincinnati Cyclones, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers
American Conference – South Division
Charlotte Checkers, Florida Everblades, Gwinnett Gladiators and South Carolina Stingrays
National Conference – Pacific Division
Bakersfield Condors, Las Vegas Wranglers, Ontario Reign and Stockton Thunder
National Conference – West Division
Alaska Aces, Idaho Steelheads, Utah Grizzlies and Victoria Salmon Kings
The 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs format as unanimously approved by the Board of Governors at their annual meetings will be:
The conference quarterfinals will be a best-of-five game series with the remaining rounds being best-of-seven game series. The best-of-five series will be a 2-3 format with the higher seed choosing if it wishes to host Games 1-2 or Games 3-5. Teams that are less than 350 miles apart may choose to play a 2-2-1 format.
In the National Conference, postseason berths will be awarded to the first-place team in each division and the next five teams in the conference, based on points. The division winner with the best record in the conference will receive a bye in the first round. The other division winner will be seeded second and meet the team that finishes seventh in the conference in the first round. The other first round matchups will be the third-place finisher in the conference against the sixth-place finisher in the conference and the fourth-place finisher in the conference against the fifth-place finisher in the conference. The conference semifinals will have the first-place finisher meeting the winner of the fourth-place and fifth-place matchup and the winner of the second-place finisher and seventh-place finisher against the winner of the third-place finisher against the sixth-place finisher.
In the American Conference, postseason berths will be awarded to the first-place team in each division and the next five teams in the conference, based on points. The division winners will be seeded first, second and third and will play the eighth-place finisher, the seventh-place finisher and the sixth-place finisher, respectively, while the fourth-place finisher and the fifth-place finisher will meet. The conference semifinals will have the winner of the first-place and eighth-place matchup will meet the winner of the fourth-place and fifth-place game while the winner of the second-place and seventh-place game will face the winner of the third-place and sixth-place matchup.