PRINCETON, N.J. – After opening its 20th Anniversary Season with a special Opening Day game between the Johnstown Chiefs and the Wheeling Nailers on Oct. 18, the ECHL will have 12 games on Oct. 19 including the expansion Elmira Jackals hosting Wheeling.
The ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in three states and has grown to be a coast-to-coast league that will have 25 teams playing in 17 states and British Columbia in 2007-08, including the Mississippi (Biloxi) Sea Wolves, who return after missing two seasons in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League will play 900 games beginning Oct. 18 and concluding Apr. 5. The conference and division alignments and the format for the 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs will be determined and approved at a later date by the ECHL Board of Governors.
After being forced by Hurricane Katrina to wait two seasons, Mississippi will finally be able to celebrate its “Decade in the Den” on Oct. 27 when it hosts Reading. The Sea Wolves have sold the most season tickets in team history as fans eagerly anticipate their return to the ice at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum for the first time since Apr. 15, 2005. Located in Biloxi, the Sea Wolves had a Voluntary Suspension each of the last two seasons under the ECHL’s hardship provisions after the arena and the team office housed within suffered extensive damage.
The newest ECHL member is Elmira, which will play its home games at First Arena, a 4,000-seat multi-purpose facility in Downtown Elmira, N.Y. The Jackals have played the last seven seasons as a member of the United Hockey League where they averaged 3,308 per game and had 31 sellouts, including a team record standing-room-only crowd of 4,126 on Oct. 13, 2006.
For the first time since 1998-99 the ECHL had 10 teams that averaged more than 5,000 fans per game in 2006-07 led by Stockton and Florida, who had the two highest average attendances since 2000-01. Thirteen of the 22 returning teams raised their attendance from 2005-06 as the league had 35 sellouts for the fourth year in a row.
Florida will open its 10th season on Oct. 19 when it hosts the Mississippi Sea Wolves. The Everblades have not averaged less than 6,200 per game in each of their first nine seasons, including leading the league a record five straight years from 2000-05. Florida has not missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs since joining the ECHL in 1998-99 and their nine consecutive appearances is the longest active streak.
Stockton, which will open its third season on Oct. 27 when it hosts the Alaska Aces, reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time in their second season and became the first team other than Florida to lead the league in attendance two years in a row since Louisiana from 1995-99. The Thunder raised their average attendance by 6.5 percent to 6,780 per game and had three sellouts at Stockton Arena, which will host the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 23, 2008.
Bakersfield will open its fifth season in the ECHL on Oct. 19 when it hosts Stockton. The Condors have raised their attendance the last four seasons and have seen their average grow 29.6 percent from 2003-04 when they joined the league as an expansion team.
It will be a rematch of the North Division Finals on Oct. 19 when Dayton visits Cincinnati and Oct. 20 when the Bombers host the Cyclones. In the Kelly Cup Finals for the second time since 2002, Dayton beat Cincinnati in seven games to become only the third team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Dayton beat Florida in seven games to win the American Conference and is the only team to win two Game 7s in a single postseason. The Bombers had a sellout crowd of 9,989 for their season opener, which is the largest crowd at the Nutter Center since a team record 10,057 on Jan. 23, 2004. Dayton raised its attendance by 5.2 percent in 2006-07, which was the seventh-largest increase, and it has raised attendance each of the last two seasons.
Idaho, which has reached the Kelly Cup Finals for the second time in four seasons, will open its fifth season in the ECHL on Oct. 19 when it hosts Victoria. The Steelheads were second in the league in 2006-07 with six sellouts including 5,533 on Jan. 20 which is the largest crowd since the team joined as an expansion team in 2003-04. Idaho has had 29 sellouts since joining the league, including a league-leading 10 in the regular season and five in the Kelly Cup Playoffs their first season.
Fresno will host Las Vegas in its season opener on Oct. 19 while Gwinnett will host Pensacola on Oct. 20. The Falcons had the largest attendance increase of any team in 2006-07 with 12.7 percent while Gwinnett raised its attendance after having its fourth sellout crowd of 11,355 and two other crowds of more than 10,000.
Phoenix and its new coach Brad Church will host Utah in its season opener for the second year in a row on Oct. 19. Trenton will play its first game as the Devils as it hosts longtime rival Reading on Oct. 19 marking the second season in a row that the two have opened the season against each other.
Augusta, which has made back-to-back trips to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2000 and 2001, opens its 16th season on Oct. 19 when it hosts Texas which will open its season on Oct. 27 when it hosts Florida in a rematch of the South Division Finals. Returning from a one-year hiatus forced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Wildcatters raised their average attendance by 7.5 percent from 2004-05, which was the third-largest attendance increase in 2006-07.
Charlotte and South Carolina are both celebrating their 15th anniversary in the ECHL and each will host Columbia in their home opener with the Inferno visiting the Checkers on Oct. 19 and the Stingrays on Oct. 20. Charlotte has led the league each of the last two years in sellouts with 11 in 2006-07 and 10 in 2005-06. Charlotte Bobcats Arena has a listed capacity of 6,800 for hockey but can accommodate larger crowds as evidenced by the Checkers having three crowds over 10,000 last year, including a team record 11,237 on Feb. 10 and eight other crowds of more than 9,000. South Carolina had 10,112 for their season opener in 2006-07 and 10,496 on Jan. 20 for their first sellout since 1998.
John Marks, who is the first coach to lead two different teams to the ECHL title, takes over behind the bench in Pensacola, which will open its season on Oct. 19 against Gwinnett. Marks, who led Charlotte to the Riley Cup in 1996 and Greenville to the Kelly Cup in 2002, is 466-368-84 in 13 seasons in the league and is the all-time leader in games and second in wins.
Las Vegas will raise its Brabham Cup Championship banner at its season opener on Oct. 21 when it hosts Stockton. The Wranglers will play at midnight for the fifth consecutive year when they host Phoenix on Dec. 17 and remain the only professional hockey team to play at midnight, a tradition the team began on Dec. 22, 2003.
Coming off a season that saw the first-ever sellout at Save-On-Foods-Centre and the first trip to the Kelly Cup Playoffs, Victoria will host Las Vegas on Oct. 26. After having the second-largest attendance increase in the ECHL in 2006-07 with almost nine percent, Utah will host Idaho for its season opener at The “E” Center on Oct. 26. Wheeling will host South Carolina at WesBanco Arena on Oct. 26, the same day that Augusta will visit Columbia for the Inferno’s home opener.
Reading will be trying for its second home-opening sellout in a row on Nov. 3 when it hosts Cincinnati. The Royals have not averaged less than 5,000 per game in each of their first six seasons. In addition to the sellout on opening night, Reading had another crowd of more than 7,000 in 2006-07.
Alaska will be the last team to play its home opener when Florida visits on Nov. 2. The Aces, who had a standing-room-only crowd of 6,451 for their home opener a year ago, have raised their average attendance by 18.8 percent since joining the ECHL as an expansion team in 2003-04. In the last four years, Alaska has had 36 sellouts at Sullivan Arena and 15 of those have been crowds of 6,451, including six in the regular season.
2007-08 ECHL Home Openers
Nov. 2 vs. Florida Everblades
Oct. 19 vs. Texas Wildcatters
Oct. 19 vs. Stockton Thunder
Oct. 19 vs. Columbia Inferno
Oct. 19 vs. Dayton Bombers
Oct. 26 vs. Augusta Lynx
Oct. 20 vs. Cincinnati Cyclones
Oct. 19 vs. Wheeling Nailers
Oct. 19 vs. Mississippi Sea Wolves
Oct. 19 vs. Las Vegas Wranglers
Oct. 20 vs. Pensacola Ice Pilots
Oct. 19 vs. Victoria Salmon Kings
Oct. 18 vs. Wheeling Nailers
Las Vegas Wranglers
Oct. 21 vs. Stockton Thunder
Mississippi Sea Wolves
Oct. 27 vs. Reading Royals
Pensacola Ice Pilots
Oct. 19 vs. Gwinnett Gladiators
Oct. 19 vs. Utah Grizzlies
Nov. 3 vs. Cincinnati Cyclones
South Carolina Stingrays
Oct. 20 vs. Columbia Inferno
Oct. 27 vs. Alaska Aces
Oct. 27 vs. Florida Everblades
Oct. 19 vs. Reading Royals
Oct. 26 vs. Idaho Steelheads
Victoria Salmon Kings
Oct. 26 vs. Las Vegas Wranglers
Oct. 26 vs. South Carolina Stingrays
The complete ECHL schedule is available by clicking the link below.
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07, marking the 10th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
There have been 329 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including a record 47 in 2005-06 and 26 in 2006-07. There have been 184 former ECHL players who have played their first game in the NHL in the past five seasons and 107 former ECHL players have skated in the NHL this season. More than 100 players under contract to NHL teams have played in the ECHL this season.
The ECHL was represented for the sixth consecutive year on the National Hockey League championship team in 2006, including Carolina Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette, who is the first ECHL coach to win the Stanley Cup.
The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 27 teams in the American Hockey League in 2006-07 and for the past 17 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion.
In each of the last two seasons there have been more than 225 players who have played in both the ECHL and the AHL and there were over 800 call-ups involving more than 500 players.
In the last five seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,000 call-ups involving more than 1,000 players since 2002-03.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.