Express Tuesday: All Aboard!

(Yes, I went with the most clichéd title for this introductory post. Deal with it.)

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
EASTERN CONFERENCE
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
WESTERN CONFERENCE
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.

Via chicagoexpresshockey.com

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!

Follow the Chicago Express on Facebook or on Twitter at @ExpressHockey.

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