By Neil Hodge
Times & Transcript Staff
James Sanford is quick to defend the ECHL.
The 23-year-old Alma native is a fourth-year veteran and he’s spent most of his career in that circuit. He’s now with the Utah Grizzlies who are tied 1-1 with the Victoria Salmon Kings entering Game 3 tonight in their second-round ECHL playoff series.
“I can remember when I decided to turn pro there were guys telling me ‘Don’t go to the ECHL. You get lost down there. Nobody really looks at that league,”’ said Sanford, a former Moncton Wildcats defenceman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“Now, it’s definitely a legitimate affiliation league. We have two second-round NHL draft picks on our team who are here because they need to be in a situation where they can play more for their development.”
The ECHL is the third-best professional hockey league in North America after the National Hockey League and American Hockey League. There are 25 teams in the ECHL and 22 of them are affiliated with NHL clubs.
“There’s often stories on the ECHL website about a guy from this league who’s now in the NHL,” said Sanford. “I remember hearing that it was a goon league, but it’s definitely not like that now. It’s become a really good league.