ECHL’s 25th season faces off on Friday

The ECHL’s 25th Anniversary season begins on Friday with eight games in seven states, continues on Saturday with 11 games in nine states and concludes with one game on Sunday.

Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league that has 23 teams in 16 states playing 828 games from Oct. 12, 2012 to March 30, 2013. The ECHL is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.

Four new teams enter the ECHL in 2012-13 as the League welcomes the Evansville IceMen, the Fort Wayne Komets, the Orlando Solar Bears and the San Francisco Bulls.

Three of the four new teams are in action on Friday, with Fort Wayne hosting the Kalamazoo Wings and San Francisco hosting the Bakersfield Condors. Orlando makes its ECHL debut on the road at Germain Arena against the defending Kelly Cup champion, Florida Everblades, who will raise their first Kelly Cup banner in team history to the rafters prior to the game. It will be a playoff rematch at First Arena as the Elmira Jackals host the Reading Royals. Elmira defeated Reading 3 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last spring. Other games on Friday’s schedule include Greenville visiting Trenton, Colorado hosting Alaska, Utah traveling to Idaho and Stockton opening at home against Ontario.

Saturday’s action is highlighted by the ECHL debut of the Evansville IceMen, who host Fort Wayne at Ford Center. Six other teams host home openers on Saturday with Reading hosting Trenton, Toledo versus Kalamazoo, South Carolina opening its 20th ECHL season at the North Charleston Coliseum against Gwinnett, Cincinnati entertaining Wheeling, and Ontario hosting Stockton and Utah against Idaho in the back end of home-and-home series.

Opening Weekend concludes on Sunday with Bakersfield hosting Las Vegas in the Condors home opener at Rabobank Arena.

There have been 490 players who have played in the NHL after playing in the ECHL including 23 in 2011-12.The ECHL has had 298 players reach the NHL since 2002-03 when it changed its focus to become the primary developmental league for the NHL and the AHL. The ECHL had 97 players reach the NHL in its first 10 seasons and 215 in the first 15 years. There have been 234 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game in the last seven seasons for an average of more than 33 per year.

The ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 NHL teams in 2012-13, marking the 16th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 30 teams in the American Hockey League in 2012-13 and for the past 23 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup Champion.

In the last eight seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 3,500 call-ups involving more than 1,800 players and in 2011-12 there were 10 times as many call-ups from the ECHL to the AHL than all other professional leagues.

The ECHL averaged 4,281 fans per game in 2011-12, marking the eighth consecutive season and the 20th time in the last 22 years that the ECHL has averaged over 4,000 fans.