(Reading, PA) – The Reading Royals of the ECHL announced that the organization has entered into an affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League. Under the agreement, the Royals will serve as the ECHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. Under the affiliation arrangement, during the 2008-09 season, the Royals will receive players designated for assignment within Toronto’s professional developmental system.
“We are excited to enter into a new era of Royals’ hockey,” said Royals’ General Manager Gordon Kaye, “and to align our team with the Maple Leafs’ organization, which is so richly steeped in hockey history and success. Our organization certainly looks forward to the challenge of helping young players within the Toronto system advance their careers. But just as important for our team, we believe that this relationship will provide us with the best opportunity to give our fans what they want and deserve—an ECHL championship.”
“The Maple Leafs’ organization is pleased to join forces with the Royals,” said Jeff Jackson, the Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations of the Maple Leafs. “We are well aware of the success that the Royals have experienced in Reading, both on and off the ice, and we look forward to becoming an active participant in that success.
“We’re hopeful that Reading will serve as a springboard in the development of young players within our system,” Jackson continued, “and, in turn, we’re hopeful that those players will provide tangible dividends for the Royals and their fans. An important part of the development process is teaching young players how to win at the professional level, and we think that there is no better place in the ECHL to do that than in Reading.”
World renowned for the team’s distinct blue and white colors and readily recognizable logo, the Maple Leafs are one of the most venerable organizations in all of sports history. A member of what is often referred to as the NHL’s “Original Six,” Toronto has won eleven Stanley Cups as the Maple Leafs—and two others as the Toronto Arenas (1917-18) and the Toronto St. Patricks (1921-22). The Maple Leafs’ organization is virtually synonymous with the history of hockey—from the historic building in which the team used to play (Maple Leaf Gardens) to the individuals that have added a wealth of character to hockey’s lore. The Maple Leafs’ family tree includes a virtually unending list of ‘who’s who’ in hockey from former owner and coach Conn Smythe to Hap Day, Syl Apps, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich, Terry Sawchuck, Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler and the team’s all-time leading scorer, Mats Sundin. No fewer than 55 players and 15 ‘builders,’ who at one time or another were associated with the Leafs, have been inducted into hockey’s Hall of Fame. Heading into the 2008-09 season, the Maple Leafs, who now play their home games at Air Canada Center in Toronto, are led by recently named Head Coach Ron Wilson and General Manager Cliff Fletcher.
The Toronto Marlies, who draw their nickname from an equally rich historic hockey lineage—the Toronto Marlboros (who won seven Memorial Cups during their stint in Canadian major junior hockey), serve as the AHL affiliate for the Maple Leafs. The Marlies’ franchise, which started as the St. Catharines Saints (1982-86) and moved on to the Newmarket Saints (1986-91) and the St. John’s Maple Leafs (1991-2005), has been in Toronto for the past three seasons. Last year, the Marlies, who are coached by Greg Gilbert and play their home games at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, won the AHL’s North Division in the regular season and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in the playoffs before finally bowing out to the eventual Calder Cup Champion Chicago Wolves.
From the Royals’ perspective, the new affiliation arrangement with Toronto will serve as the basis for the team’s 2008-09 marketing campaign: “The New Royal Blue”. Throughout the season, the Royals intend to highlight hockey’s rich tradition, whether it be in Toronto or southeastern Pennsylvania, including acting as the host of the 2009 ECHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge. The team will continue to utilize the same colors worn for the past seven seasons in Reading—purple, black, silver and white. The Royals will also continue to wear the new uniforms that were unveiled during the team’s 2008 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoff run.
The Los Angeles Kings of the NHL and the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, who have served as the Royals’ affiliates for the past seven seasons, will continue in a participating affiliation relationship with Reading.
The ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams playing in four states, the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League has grown into a coast-to-coast league that will have 24 teams in 16 states and British Columbia playing 864 games from Oct. 17, 2008 to Apr. 4, 2009. Nineteen of the 24 teams have played at least five years in their current city. The third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, the ECHL averaged 4,174 per game last season, marking the fourth year in row and the 16th time in the last 18 years that the league has averaged over 4,000 fans. The league has drawn over four million fans each of the last five years and 11 times in the past 12 seasons.