Monthly Archives: October 2014

Goodbye CHL, Hello ECHL

2014 ECHL Kelly Cup Champions, Alaska Aces [Photo from ECHL.com]

2014 ECHL Kelly Cup Champions, Alaska Aces
[Photo from ECHL.com]

The last year or so hasn’t been easy for the Central Hockey League in North America.

Despite an expansion in 2013 that introduced Brampton Beast – the first Canadian team – into the league, they’ve struggled to keep things running smoothly.  The newest team, St Charles Chill only lasted a single season before announcing it was ceasing operations in May this year.  And both the Arizona Sundogs (with their recent signing ex-EIHLer Drew Fata) and the Denver Cutthroats have suspended operations, although press releases indicate that they hope to return for the 2015-16 season.

But even if they do, they won’t be returning to the CHL.

As announced today, the remaining seven teams of the CHL will be merged into the ECHL for the upcoming season.  Allen Americans, Brampton Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder will be expansion teams for the league, taking the ECHL up to a total of 28 teams across 20 states and 1 Canadian province.

The 2014-15 season is due to start on 17th October, and the hope is that date can still be met.  But there will be a lot of work to be done between now and then, including new schedules, divisional alignment and the format for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

On the ECHL website, Commissioner Brian McKenna stated that “There will be logistical challenges in the short term, however, in the long term, it is certainly in the best interest of the ECHL, the new Members and minor-league hockey in general.”

No hockey fan ever wants to see a league fold like the CHL has done, but we – and the seven teams who will need to get used to their new home this season – can only be grateful to the ECHL.

Paul Swindlehurst: A Brit in Chicago

A few weeks ago, the British hockey world was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of our own, Paul Swindlehurst of the Dundee Stars, had been invited to hit the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Image found on twitter - original photographer unknown

Image found on twitter – original photographer unknown

An Original Six team, the ‘Hawks lifted the Stanley Cup twice in recent years, in 2010 and 2013, and are undeniably one of the strongest teams in the league right now. So for a local lad to be invited to join them for their rookie tournament is a pretty big deal. Rookie tournaments are an annual thing, taking place every year before the NHL pre-season begins. Designed to give the NHL scouts a better look at some of the future players, the Blackhawks played in against rookies from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators in a round-robin series of games.  While the actual results are largely unimportant, the opportunity for these youngsters is enormous. Players from the AHL farm team and some of the newer youngsters already rostered to the NHL team are joined by a selection of undrafted players who are specifically invited by the team scouts.

One of those invitees this year was Paul Swindlehurst.

After spending some of his teenage years training in Canada, Paul returned to the UK for the 2011 season, joining Swindon Wildcats in the EPL, before making the move to Dundee.  A regular in the Under 18 and Under 20 National Teams, Paul also took his place on the Great Britain senior team for their World Championships this year.  It was presumably during this time that he was spotted by the Blackhawks’ scouts.

Defenseman roster for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

Defensemen rostered for the Blackhawks Prospect Tournament 2014

While Paul didn’t make the roster for the first of the three tournament games, vs Toronto Maple Leafs, he was rostered for the other two, paired with Justin Holl for the game against Pittsbugh, and with Dillon Fournier against Ottawa.  In Pittsburgh, Paul even notched an assist!

image

All three of them are now training with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, Rockford Icehogs, in preparation for their pre-season, which starts on Thursday 2nd October. It’s looking like Paul will be wearing #32 for the Icehogs.

We’ll be following him with Rockford over the next couple of weeks, but no matter what happens, it’s clear that Paul is making way for other Brits to play professional ice hockey in North America.  Even if he gets “relegated” down to the ECHL, it’s still something to be proud of and proves that Britain can produce players that can compete with the best in the world.  With Paul bringing Britain to the attention of professional North American scouts, it’s only a matter of time before the next players follow in his footsteps.

From the Icehogs Flickr Account

From the Icehogs Flickr Account