Hockey fix: AHL, ECHL, U.S. juniors (cont.)
Established in 1988, it includes 23 teams in the U.S. and is considered a level below the AHL. Any player designated for assignment by an NHL club must be sent to the AHL or ECHL. Nearly 500 have graduated from ECHL teams to play in the NHL at some point.
The league's original name -- East Coast Hockey League -- was a misnomer, as clubs are located as far west as San Francisco, Las Vegas and Anchorage. All but three -- Las Vegas Wranglers, Bakersfield (Calif.) Condors and Alaska Aces -- have affiliations with specific NHL clubs, and five share ties to two NHL teams. Four (San Francisco Bulls, Orlando Solar Bears, Evansville IceMen and Fort Wayne Komets) are new this season, and the Columbia Inferno is under suspension as it attempts to find a new arena. The ECHL has only ever had one Canadian club, the Victoria Salmon Kings, who folded after the 2011 season. Fans of the cult movie Slap Shot will note that the actual Johnstown Chiefs played in the ECHL before relocating to Greenville, S.C. after the 2010 season. The Chiefs never won a title. (The ECHL champ receives the Kelly Cup.)
Alaska Aces: In addition to NHLer Brandon Dubinsky, the league's top regular season offensive team of 2011-12 also signed fellow Alaska natives Nate Thompson, the Tampa Bay Lightning center, and Washington Capitals right wing Joey Crabb. Scott Gomez, who skated with the team for a few days, was released in the final roster cut because he didn't intend to play for the team.
Florida Everblades: The defending champions welcomed back four key skaters from last season's squad: forwards David Rutherford and Matt Beca and defensemen Bobby Raymond and Joe Sova. Rutherford led the team with 25 goals and Beca topped it with 60 points. Raymond, 27, was a steady presence on the backline. Goalie Rob Madore spent most of 2011-12 with the University of Vermont, but posted a 54-save, quadruple-overtime win for the South Carolina Stingrays against Gwinnett in the playoffs last spring.
Las Vegas Wranglers: The Western Conference champs, who lost to Florida in last season's five-game final, actually feature a pair of Las Vegas natives. Center Chris Francis posted a total of 45 points in the regular season and playoffs. Bryce Reddick, a 23-year-old forward who grew up in the area, is the son of former NHL goalie Pokey Reddick who played for Winnipeg, Edmonton and Florida before joining Las Vegas in the now-defunct International Hockey League.
HACKEL: NHLers may be targets in ECHL
Colorado Eagles: Skating with ECHL MVP Chad Costello will be Jack Combs, who was second in the league in scoring before being called up to the AHL. Trent Daavettila, who notched 74 points in 68 games with Kalamazoo last season, rounds out one of the league's best lines.
C Brandon Dubinsky, Alaska Aces: Like Gomez, Dubinsky has something to prove once he returns to the NHL, which makes his stint in the ECHL a potential momentum swinger. He spent six seasons in New York, but never truly developed into the power forward the Rangers had hoped for. After a 24-goal, 54-point season in 2010-11, he seemed to lose his nose for the net last season and found himself with less ice time and just 34 points. The Rangers might have moved him at the trade deadline last season, but his contract seemed a little heftier than his worth to some teams. New York finally dealt him to Columbus as a key piece of the deal for Rick Nash. Dubinsky's fresh start will begin with the Aces.
D Paul Mara, Ontario Reign: This 13-year, 33-year-old veteran of the NHL wars has 734 games on his resume with the big show. He'll be skating for the defending Pacific Division champions, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. Mara spent the 2011-12 campaign coaching the Bourne, Mass., high school team, but never actually retired from hockey.
F Chad Costello, Colorado Eagles: He finished fourth in the league in scoring (29-47-76 in 47 games) despite suffering a season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) Mar. 10 while carrying the puck around the net against Alaska. He was selected, nevertheless, as the ECHL's MVP.
America One Sports: America One offers coverage of all ECHL games, including video on demand for 30 days. There are no dedicated TV announcers, and broadcasts are actually the transmitted radio feeds of the team you choose in that particular game. The website also has links for audio-only broadcasts.
ECHL Headline News: The site has the usual game center, with stats, standings and ticket information. It also keeps track of how many ECHL alumni reach the NHL. The number stands at 490 entering the 2012-13 season.
Nov. 7, 9, 10: Consider this series more than a date. Three nights are a necessity, given the travel requirements of a team from Alaska. The Aces will play three games in four nights in Las Vegas against the Wranglers. The back-to-back Friday and Saturday night tilts could carry playoff intensity as two of the strongest teams in the West lock horns.
Feb. 22, 23, 24: Since what happens in Vegas doesn't have to stay in Vegas, look for this three-game series between the Wranglers and Aces in Anchorage on three consecutive nights. February in Alaska? Might as well stay inside and watch some hockey.
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