Next month, the ECHL will start its 23rd season, and with this new season comes the newest team to join the league — the Chicago Express.
Runs On Duncan will be covering the newest addition to the professional hockey world in Chicago starting today, so I think it’s only fair to get everyone acquainted with the Express, along with the ECHL itself. If you’re wondering why we’re covering an ECHL team on a site that’s supposed to be dedicated to the Blackhawks, see this post and read the paragraph after the numbered list near the top. Honey Badger still don’t care.
Let’s go over what the ECHL is before I bring the Express into this conversation…
The ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, but now just stands for, uh, ECHL) is a mid-level professional hockey league that is considered a level below the AHL (which makes it two levels below the NHL). The ECHL and the AHL are the only minor leagues recognized by the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement; this means that all players that are signed to an NHL team and are going to be assigned must go to either an AHL or ECHL team. If you’re familiar with baseball and their farming system, think of the AHL as Triple-A, while the ECHL is considered Double-A.
Newest Blackhawks Andrew Brunette (played for the Hampton Roads Admirals [defunct]) and Daniel Carcillo (Wheeling Nailers) have both spent time in the ECHL. The league’s most famous alum, however, is probably Tim Thomas, who played for the Birmingham Bulls (relocated, now Stockton Thunder). Other players who have played in the ECHL whose names you may recognize include Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette (Wheeling Nailers), Jonathan Quick (Reading Royals), George Parros (Reading Royals), Michael Ryder (Tallahassee Tiger Sharks [relocated, now Utah Grizzlies] and Mississippi Sea Wolves [defunct]), and Alex Burrows (Columbia Inferno [suspended], Baton Rouge Kingfish [defunct], and Greenville Grrrowl [defunct]). Coach Dan Bylsma, who won the Jack Adams Award this year, got his professional start as an ECHL player for the defunct Greensboro Monarchs. For a full list of ECHL alumni, see this page.
The league is, um… uniquely structured in order to keep travel costs down (and owners happy), with 20 teams in two conferences and five divisions. Since there are less teams in the league than NHL teams, ECHL teams tend to be affiliated with more than one NHL team at a time. Here’s a handy table so you can see what I mean:
|Division||Team||City||NHL Affiliate||AHL Affiliate|
|ATLANTIC||Elmira Jackals||Elmira, NY||Anaheim Ducks / Ottawa Senators||Syracuse Crunch / Binghamton Senators|
|Reading Royals||Reading, PA||Boston Bruins / Toronto Maple Leafs||Toronto Marlies|
|Trenton Titans||Trenton, NJ||Philadelphia Flyers||Adirondack Phantoms|
|Wheeling Nailers||Wheeling, WV||Montreal Canadiens / Pittsburgh Penguins||Hamilton Bulldogs / Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins|
|NORTH||Chicago Express||Hoffman Estates, IL||Columbus Blue Jackets||Springfield Falcons|
|Cincinnati Cyclones||Cincinnati, OH||Florida Panthers / Nashville Predators||San Antonio Rampage / Milwaukee Admirals|
|Kalamazoo Wings||Kalamazoo, MI||New York Islanders||Bridgeport Sound Tigers|
|Toledo Walleye||Toledo, OH||Chicago Blackhawks / Detroit Red Wings||Rockford IceHogs / Grand Rapids Griffins|
|SOUTH||Florida Everblades||Estero, FL||Carolina Hurricanes / Tampa Bay Lightning||Charlotte Checkers / Norfolk Admirals|
|Greenville Road Warriors||Greenville, SC||New York Rangers||Connecticut Whale|
|Gwinnett Gladiators||Duluth, GA||Phoenix Coyotes||Portland Pirates|
|South Carolina Stingrays||N. Charleston, SC||Washington Capitals||Hershey Bears|
|MOUNTAIN||Alaska Aces||Anchorage, AK||St. Louis Blues||Peoria Rivermen|
|Colorado Eagles||Loveland, CO||TBA||TBA|
|Idaho Steelheads||Boise, ID||Dallas Stars||Texas Stars|
|Utah Grizzlies||West Valley City, UT||Calgary Flames||Abbotsford Heat|
|PACIFIC||Bakersfield Condors||Bakersfield, CA||Minnesota Wild||Houston Aeros|
|Las Vegas Wranglers||Las Vegas, NV||TBA||TBA|
|Ontario Reign||Ontario, CA||Los Angeles Kings||Manchester Monarchs|
|Stockton Thunder||Stockton, CA||Edmonton Oilers / San Jose Sharks||Oklahoma City Barons / Worcester Sharks|
Unlike the NHL (and occasionally the AHL), the ECHL never plays cross-conference games during the regular season. The only time the Eastern Conference plays the Western Conference is during the Kelly Cup Finals. The Alaska Aces are the reigning Kelly Cup Champions.
The Express and the Colorado Eagles are the newest teams to join the ECHL. Unlike the Eagles (who were part of the Central Hockey League before making the jump to the ECHL), the Express are a brand-new team. However, the team does have roots in the Chicago Hounds, who existed for one year in the UHL and played in the Sears Centre. This team is ill-remembered because of its awkward start — the opening night game was cancelled because of bad ice. After getting jerked around by the Sears Centre’s old management (who wanted him to pay three times the rent while making the team play on weekdays, which is the death knell for any non-NHL hockey team), the owner of the Hounds, Craig Drecktrah, folded the team.
When the Sears Centre came under new management, Drecktrah worked together with them and Hoffman Estates officials to bring a new ECHL team to the Chicagoland area. The ECHL Board of Governors rewarded their hard work by granting them a franchise in June 2010. After an online vote, the name of the franchise was announced on September 22, 2010. Thus, the Chicago Express were born. Soon after, Steve Martinson, the former coach of the Elmira Jackals, was named the head coach.
On May 31, 2011, the team unveiled their uniforms.
The Express announced on July 13 that they will be affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Springfield Falcons. So, yes, this does technically mean that the Express players that do make it to the NHL will become division rivals of the Blackhawks. But, really, does anyone hate the Blue Jackets? Not really. I think you can put aside your indifference to the Blue Jackets long enough to take in an Express game or two, am I right?
Though the roster won’t be complete until the Blue Jackets finalize their roster and assign players, the Express are still busy signing players. You can see who will be playing for the team so far on this page.
Now that you have a bit of background on the Express, are you interested in checking them out? Well, today is your lucky day, because regular season single-game tickets just went on sale. Opening Night is on October 22, so I hope to see you all at the Sears Centre!