What used to be known as the East Coast Hockey League, and is still widely identified by that moniker in many circles, is about to become more East Coast than ever before.
The ECHL — the acronym the league officially adopted as its brand 15 years ago — is expected to announce today that its board of governors has approved an expansion franchise for St. John’s that will begin play in the 2018-19 season.
That will set in motion a busy six months for a new team that will be affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Among other things, the club will have to establish a local management group, although many of its front office duties will be shared, or overlap, with those of the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge, whose ownership group is involved with the new hockey enterprise.
Unlike American Hockey League teams which operated in St. John’s for two decades, the ECHL franchise is locally owned by a group headed up by St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald and hockey executive Glenn Stanford.
Marketing and branding will be also be among the first items on the the to-do list, with a team name, colours and logo to be revealed.
However, the initial order of business will be working out a schedule both for road games and home dates at Mile One Centre, with consideration for the presence of the Edge, who will require their own 20 or so home games at the facility.
The 2018-19 ECHL season is expected to begin in mid-October, about a month before the next NBL Canada season gets underway. ECHL teams have played a 72-game regular-season schedule — 36 at home and 36 on the road — since 2000-2001.
The league is operating with 27 teams in 2017-18, although there are other pending off-season changes besides the addition of St. John’s. A team in Portland, Me, (Maine Mariners) is also joining the league the fall, while the defending champion Colorado Eagles will be moving to the AHL.
That will lead to some changes in the ECHL’s configuration, although it should still maintain its current four-division format.
Based on geography and former AHL rivalries, St. John’s and Portland are likely to slot into the North Division, which currently includes former AHL cities Manchester, N.H. (Monarchs), Worcester, Mass. (Railers) and Glens Falls, N.Y. (Adirondack Thunder), along with the Reading, Pa. (Royals), Wheeling, W.V. (Nailers) and Brampton, Ont. (Beast), the latter being the ECHL’s lone Canadian entry since 2014-15.