GFCC, ECHL lock into three-year deal

There will be professional hockey next season in Glens Falls.

There will be professional hockey next season in Glens Falls.

The Calgary Flames will move the East Coast Hockey League team they just bought, the Stockton (Calif.) Thunder, to Glens Falls to begin play next season, replacing the American Hockey League team vacating the Civic Center to join a new Pacific Division in California.

The AHL is the top development league below the NHL. The ECHL is the next step down.

Adirondack Flames pres­ident Brian Petrovek and ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna were on hand at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Friday morning to discuss the movement.

“On May 16, in this very room, Calgary was open and honest about the possibility of joining forces with other western NHL teams to form a Pacific Division of the American Hockey League, and if and when that did occur, to find Glens Falls a dance partner,” Petrovek said. “They didn’t just go out and convince another team to move here. They went out and bought one to ensure the community would have an entertaining, and a hard-working team, not just for one season, but for many years to come.”

The ECHL team — the Flames have yet to decide on a name for the club — has a three-year contract with the GFCC. Unlike the AHL’s

Adirondack Flames, there are not yearly options out of that contract.

The AHL’s Pacific Division is something that the league has been working on for more than 30 months. Knowing the Flames desired to be part of that division when it became a reality, their AHL contract with Glens Falls allowed them the option of leaving after each of the three seasons of the deal.

Petrovek said he did not expect it to happen so fast.

“When we first got here,” he said, “just based upon where I saw the pieces, coming from 14 years in Portland — this discussion goes way, way back — I thought it was probably still a couple years away.”

The last time a team in Glens Falls played in a league lower than the AHL was when the Adirondack Ice Hawks and Adirondack Frostbite played in the UHL from 1999-2006. Attendance at those games was considerably less than the worst seasons in the AHL.

The best turnout for a Glens Falls UHL team was an average of 3,211 during the first Ice Hawks season (1999-2000), according to The worst for an AHL club was the last season of the Adirondack Red Wings (1998-99) with an average of 3,441. Ice Hawks attendance dropped in the second season to 2,455, and never again topped 3,000.

Petrovek, though, is confident the organization can put a good enough product on the ice to keep fans interested.

Other AHL cities that will lose teams at the end of the season include Manchester, N.H.; Norfolk, Va.; Worcester, Mass.; and Oklahoma City, Okla. However, Manchester and Norfolk, like Glens Falls, will welcome the ECHL affiliate of the AHL team they lost.

The ECHL has a roster of 28 teams for next season, and McKenna said he expects in the next 12 to 18 months the league will expand to 30 teams for the 2016-17 season. That opens the door for Worcester, Oklahoma City and any others interested to apply for membership.

“We’ve had various expressions of interest from markets,” McKenna said. “I think you’ll know a lot more between now and September. That’s the upcoming eight or nine months, in terms of who actually steps forward and puts in an application.”

At the beginning of the season, the ECHL noted 72 of the league’s alumni were on opening-day NHL rosters. So in some cases, fans may be watching future NHL players. Those cases are fewer than in the AHL, but McKenna noted there are sometimes AHL teams that aren’t necessarily the best product on the ice.

On average, McKenna said the ECHL teams have six to eight players on contracts with higher leagues. The rest of the roster is filled out by players on contracts with that ECHL team. This makes it less of an issue having a lower-level affiliate on the opposite coast as it does with an AHL team, which is comprised of a higher percentage of players on two-way NHL contracts.

McKenna said it also made more sense for displaced ECHL teams to move to hockey-ready markets left by AHL teams.

Petrovek said he sees this week’s changes as the start of good things for the ECHL in this region.

“The American League’s not coming back to the Northeast,” he said. “You can see it in the tea leaves. NHL teams are moving their AHL teams closer, and the New York teams have their own relationships, the Bruins have their relationship with Providence. So this is an opportunity for the ECHL brand to really grow in the Northeast, and it’s just starting today.”

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