The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League will drop the puck for its 19th season this weekend with 12 games on Friday, 10 games on Saturday and five games on Sunday.
The ECHL welcomes back the Cincinnati Cyclones and the Texas Wildcatters and will play 900 games from Oct. 20-Apr. 7 with 25 teams in 15 states and British Columbia, Canada.
The ECHL has raised its average attendance each of the last three seasons and averaged 4,372 per game a year ago which was the largest per-game average since 1999-2000. Nine teams averaged more than 5,000 per game for the first time since 1999-2000 and 13 of the 22 returning teams raised their attendance.
Hockey makes its return to Cincinnati for the first time since Mar. 26, 2004 when the Cyclones host the Pensacola Ice Pilots on Friday. Cincinnati requested and was granted a voluntary suspension for the past two seasons after reaching the Kelly Cup Playoffs in two of its three seasons from 2001-04, including losing in Game 7 of the conference finals to eventual champion Atlantic City in 2003. Cincinnati hosts its other in-state rival on Saturday when Toledo will visit U.S. Bank Arena.
Texas will play its first three games on the road before hosting Pensacola on Oct. 28. The Wildcatters were unable to play last year when Ford Arena was used by emergency personnel in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Sullivan Arena is expecting a standing-room-only crowd on Friday when Alaska raises its Kelly Cup and Brabham Cup banners prior to its game against the Victoria Salmon Kings. The Aces are only the second team in 18 years to win both the regular season point title and the postseason championship, and became the first team ever to defeat three teams that had 100 points during the regular season. Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2003-04, Alaska has sold out 16 games in the regular season and 18 of 22 games in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, including nine in a row last year to break its league record of seven consecutive postseason sellouts set in 2005.
Fresno raises its Pacific Division champion banner at Save Mart Center on Friday when it hosts the Las Vegas Wranglers. After finishing first in the division with a team record 43 wins and 100 points, the Falcons advanced to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time and came within one goal of reaching the Kelly Cup Finals, losing 3-2 in double overtime in Game 7 to eventual Kelly Cup champion Alaska in the National Conference Finals.
Gwinnett fans will watch the team raise its South Division and American Conference championship banners at Your Best Rate Financial Home Ice at The Arena at Gwinnett Center when the Gladiators host South Carolina on Friday.
Toledo will be looking for its fourth consecutive season-opening sellout crowd and the Storm will hoist the North Division championship banner to the rafters of the historic Toledo Sports Arena when in-state rival Dayton visits on Friday.
After reaching the playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year, Augusta has new ownership as it begins its quest to return to the Kelly Cup Playoffs when it hosts Columbia on Friday at James Brown Arena.
Having won its first-ever playoff series a year ago, Bakersfield will begin its quest for a third straight trip to the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Friday when it hosts the Stockton Thunder. The Condors raised their attendance for the third consecutive year and reached 200,000 for the first time since joining as an expansion team in 2003-04.
Charlotte begins its second season at downtown Charlotte Bobcats Arena with new local ownership as it hosts the Wheeling Nailers on Friday. The Checkers increased their average attendance more than 15.5 percent and led the league with 10 sellouts, including two crowds over 10,000 and four crowds in excess of 9,000, while reaching the postseason for the second season in a row for the first time since 2001 and 2002.
Taking the first step in its goal to regain the attendance crown, Florida will host Texas on Friday and Saturday at Germain Arena. The Everblades led the ECHL in attendance from 2000-05 and have not drawn less than 220,000 or averaged less than 6,200 per game in each of their first seven years in the league.
New ownership and new coach Rick Adduono have created excitement in Long Beach which hosts the Idaho Steelheads on Friday. The Ice Dogs advanced to the postseason each of the past two years and look to advance deeper into the playoffs with Adduono, who won Kelly Cup titles with South Carolina in 1997 and 2001.
A new affiliation with the neighboring Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey has the Phoenix RoadRunners eagerly anticipating their second season which begins with a three-game series against the Utah Grizzlies Friday to Sunday at US Airways Center.
Under new ownership and with a new head coach, Trenton renews its rivalry with the Reading Royals on Friday at the Sovereign Bank Arena. On Saturday the battle moves to the Sovereign Center where the Royals set a team record with 7,315 for their game against the Titans on Mar. 4, one of three sellouts for Reading which surpassed 200,000 fans for the third time in five seasons.
One of the original five teams when the ECHL began in 1988-89, Johnstown opens its 19th season on Saturday. Pensacola visits Cambria County War Memorial which was built in 1950 and immortalized in the movie “Slapshot”. Reaching the postseason for the second time in the last three years, the Chiefs raised their attendance more than 1.5 percent a year ago.
South Carolina begins its 14th season at the North Charleston Coliseum when it hosts Palmetto state rival Columbia. The Stingrays have reached the postseason 13 seasons in a row, setting the league record for appearances and consecutive appearances, and won the Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001.
In other action on Saturday, Victoria visits Alaska and Gwinnett travels to Augusta while Bakersfield hosts Idaho and Charlotte hosts Wheeling.
Opening weekend concludes on Sunday with Pensacola continuing its trek towards Florida with a visit to Reading while Las Vegas visits Fresno, Bakersfield travels to Long Beach and Trenton hosts Johnstown.