Saturday, July 24, 2010
July by the Numbers racks up the frequent flyer miles as we head cross-continent to Alaska for jersey #24.
The East Coast Hockey League was formed in 1988 and is widely considered the third rung on the professional hockey ladder below the NHL and the AHL, with many of it's teams having affiliations with NHL and their AHL farm teams.
The league had humble beginnings with just five teams, it underwent a fairly blistering period of expansion, more than doubling to 11 teams in it's third season, adding four more in 1991 and gaining four more in 1993, finally quadrupling it's original size in 1995-96 with 21 clubs.
It continued to add clubs at a nearly unabated pace, netting two more in 1996, 1997 and 1998 plus one more in 1999. It lost three teams in 2000 and responded by adding four total the following season! It again contracted by two and reacted once again by adding four in 2003 when it accepted ten clubs primarily from the defunct West Coast Hockey League but lost six teams in the southeast to reach 31 clubs - six times it's original size in 16 seasons and a now vastly increased footprint across North America.
Since reaching it's high of 31 clubs, the recent economic downturn has taken it's toll on the ECHL, as it began to shed teams, losing three total in 2004, three more in 2007, two in 2008 and three more in 2009 to drop to a 15 year low.
It's also not as simple as two or three clubs folding in a given year either, as the unstable league has seen many clubs leave each season, offset by a number of new arrivals. In 2008-09 for example, five clubs left the league while two new ones joined for a net of minus three. Even in an apparent run of "stability" when the league stayed at 25 clubs for two consecutive seasons, 2005-06 saw two leave and two join and 2006-07 had another three join only to be balanced out by three who left! Since 2004, 24 clubs have left the league while 13 have joined.
Many colorful team names have been a part of the ECHL, such as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies, the Greenville Grrrowl, the Lexington Men O' War, the Louisiana IceGators, the Louisville River Frogs, the Mobile Mysticks, the Pee Dee Pride and who could forget the Macon Whoopee?
Through all the franchise comings and goings, one team remained, the Johnstown Chiefs, who sadly announced in February of 2010 that they would be relocating to Greenville, South Carolina after a run of 22 seasons, a virtual lifetime in the lower minors.
While there have obviously been many franchises that have folded outright or sought greener pastures in other places through relocation, three former ECHL clubs have moved up to the AHL, seeking a greater challenge. The Hampton Roads Admirals joined he ECHL in 1989 and won three championships (1991, 1992 and 1998) before joining the AHL and changing their name to the Norfolk Admirals.
The Peoria Rivermen entered the ECHL in 1996 and played until 2005 before their owners bought the Worcester IceCats of the AHL and moved them to Peoria and renamed them the Rivermen for the 2005-06 season.
In a similar maneuver, the owner of the Charlotte Checkers purchased the Albany River Rats of the AHL and will move them to Charlotte for the 2010-11 season while maintaining the Checkers identity.
The winner of the ECHL playoffs receives the Kelly Cup and to date 15 teams have won the ECHL championship with the Hampton Roads Admirals and the South Carolina Stingrays having the most championships with three each.
The Anchorage Aces were an amateur national championship club formed in 1989 and turned professional in 1995 as a member of the WCHL. They then moved to the ECHL in 2003 with the demise of the WCHL and were then renamed the Alaska Aces, which necessitated a new logo and new uniforms. Since becoming a member of the ECHL, the Aces have made the playoffs every season and made the finals twice, losing in 2009 and winning the championship in 2006.
To date, former Aces of note who have gone on to play in the NHL are Wade Brookbank and D. J. King, both of whom have over 100 games of NHL experience on their resume. The best known former Ace is Alaska native Scott Gomez, who returned to Alaska to play for the Aces during the NHL lockout of 2004-05 and led the league in scoring on his way to being named league MVP.
Gomez signs with the Aces
Today's featured jersey is a 2006-07 Alaska Aces Jim Dahl jersey. It's a very nicely executed jersey with unique arm and waist striping that ties in with their really nice logo, especially considering some of the wild creations sometimes seen in the lower minors. While the number font is not unique to the Aces, the speed flashes on the upper left corner also relate nicely to the flashes on the waist and arm stripes making for a very cohesive package.
This jersey also sports several sponsorship patches, two on the back and one in the traditional right chest location often found in the minors, which is balanced by the braggadocios 2006 Kelly Cup Champions patch on the upper left chest which reminds the rest of the league of the Aces reign over them.
Overall a very professional effort.
In today's video segment, the Aces win the 2006 Kelly Cup. And there was much rejoicing.