Beyond The Benches

Time Will Tell If Move To Northeast Will Work For ECHL

A major shake up in minor league hockey was announced this past week. First, the AHL announced that five teams will be out west to California. The league will now have teams in San Jose, Stockton, Bakersfield, Ontario and San Diego. The move eliminated the ECHL teams in Stockton, Bakersfield and Ontario.

In a move to counter the one of the AHL’s, the ECHL moved Stockton to Glens Falls, NY, Bakersfield to Norfolk, VA, and Ontario to Manchester, NH. The moves are complex but the league officials think it will be better for the long-term interests of the ECHL.

“These transfers represent a major move by the ECHL and a significant transformation of the minor league hockey landscape,” Commissioner Brian McKenna said in a press release. “While we are exiting some strong, traditional ECHL markets in California, the move is in the best, long-term interest of hockey and will allow for better alignment in the development system.”

For the ECHL this move does hurt them in the short term. These California cities drew fans well this season, especially Ontario, which is leading the league in attendance for the season. Both Bakersfield and Stockton are in the top half of the league in attendance as well so the loss of three good fan bases will hurt.

There are some pro’s to the move for the league. While all three cities have had decent attendance so far this season, the league will now have more teams on the east coast, where hockey is more popular. Especially in Manchester and Glens Falls, northeast cities where hockey is very important. If the teams are good, people will come. The move also gives the league the northeast presence it does not have.

This is another move that will shift the landscape of minor league hockey. It is the second major shift for the ECHL in a year. Hopefully it works out for them. The league certainly has lost something in the move but only time will tell if it will work out.

Writer: Sean Cahill is an Assignment Editor at ABC 6 In Providence, RI. A New England native, Sean is a huge fan of everything hockey, especially the Boston Bruins. He is also part of a radio show, The Sports Exchange, on Sunday nights. He can be reached on Twitter @CahillSean33.