Dear ECHL Fans,
Welcome to the 34th year of ECHL Hockey and the exciting return to hockey for the 2021-22 Season that lies ahead. This year we look to continue to build on our storied history and heritage that has made the ECHL the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League in North America, with over 700 players having gone on to the NHL, and bringing affordable entertainment to millions of fans in our markets.
It has been a challenging 18 months for everyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ECHL is no different. We are excited to welcome back the 11 teams who were unable to participate in the 2020-21 Season due to the pandemic, and participate with all 27 Teams for the upcoming Season. Furthermore this Season, all 27 ECHL Member Teams will have an NHL/AHL Affiliation, marking the first time since the 2017-18 Season every ECHL Team is formally Affiliated.
In addition, the ECHL is pleased to bring our League to two new Expansion markets this year, with the addition of the Iowa Heartlanders in Coralville, Iowa and the Trois-Rivières Lions in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, becoming the first ECHL team to play in that Province. Both teams enter the ECHL in brand new state-of-the-art facilities and are creating new fan bases in their markets with the potential for some great geographic rivalries.
We continue to pride ourselves on offering affordable entertainment to the communities we serve, welcoming sport fans, families, businesses, and groups of all sizes to enjoy an outing together and take in the exciting ECHL action and atmosphere for a combined first-class experience. This took on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, however through the use of technology and our commitment to entertaining our fans, we were able to work together with our communities to keep us all together, even though we were physically separated for a lot of last Season.
The ECHL would like to congratulate the Fort Wayne Komets who captured the 2021 Kelly Cup title in four games over the South Carolina Stingrays, and who in 2021-22 will celebrate their 70th season of hockey in Fort Wayne. We would also like to recognize the Wheeling Nailers, who are playing their 30th season in West Virginia this Season, becoming the first ECHL team to reach the 30-year milestone in one city!
Our Teams continue to make an impact off the ice in their local communities as well, donating nearly $38 million in the last 10 years to their markets. This is on top of the countless hours our Players and front office staff dedicate to local schools, hospitals, and charities to become an integral part of the community. Despite not playing in the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic, the Worcester Railers were awarded the ECHL Community Service Award for the third consecutive Season, as the Team continues to make an impact in the Worcester area. In addition, the ECHL will once again partner with the National Hockey League in support of their Hockey Fights Cancer and Hockey is For Everyone initiatives to bring our communities together for a great cause. In the 2021-22 Season, the ECHL has launched the Inclusive Spirit Award to recognize the Member Team that makes the biggest impact on welcoming diverse groups to the sport of hockey.
The past 33 years have also allowed the ECHL to unquestionably become an integral part of the professional hockey player development process, as 701 players have gone on to play in the NHL after their time in the ECHL, including 20 who made their NHL debut in 2020-21. Furthermore, countless officials, coaches and front office staff have moved on to the AHL and NHL as they have used the ECHL to develop their career. For the 2021-22 season, 15 of the 31 AHL head coaches and over 40 coaches on NHL staffs have ECHL ties. Furthermore, approximately one-third of the current on-ice officials in the NHL spent time honing their skills in the ECHL. For each of the last 24 seasons, the ECHL has had affiliations with at least 20 NHL teams.
The ECHL has been represented on the last 21 Stanley Cup Champions including in 2021 with Tampa Bay Lightning player Yanni Gourde; Assistant Coach Derek Lalonde; Director of Player Development JP Cote; Assistant Equipment Manager Jason Berger and Radio Play-by-Play Announcer Dave Mishkin.
Thank you on behalf of the ECHL and all of our Teams for your continued support and we hope that you and those you attend with enjoy following your favorite ECHL club and making lasting memories around the ECHL experience.
Sincerely,Ryan CrelinECHL Commissioner