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Kalamazoo jumping to the ECHL

by Brian Compton

"This came together in about 6-8 days. It was a decision that was made by our owner, William Johnson. Once he made the decision, we recognized the window of opportunity was going to be small. Through the cooperation of the ECHL, we were able to get it done."
-- Paul Pickard, K-Wings president

The International Hockey League's loss has become the ECHL's gain.

With a need to put another team in the North Division following the loss of the Dayton Bombers, the ECHL's Board of Governors unanimously approved the expansion membership application of the Kalamazoo Wings, who will begin play in the Double-A league this October in a deal that was orchestrated remarkably fast.

"This came together in about 6-8 days," team president Paul Pickard told "It was a decision that was made by our owner, William Johnson. Once he made the decision, we recognized the window of opportunity was going to be small. Through the cooperation of the ECHL, we were able to get it done."

Professional hockey has been played in Kalamazoo, Mich., since 1974-75 -- including the last two seasons in the new IHL, a reincarnation of the league that ceased operations in 2001 after more than 50 years. Kalamazoo, which will play its home games at Wings Stadium, ranked second in the league in attendance both years.

While all of the players become free agents with the move, Pickard said no changes will be made to his coaching staff.

"Nothing's going to change … same coaching staff, same bench staff, same front office staff, same general manager," Pickard said. "We will look to add to some of our personnel to strengthen our organization to be able to compete at the highest level of the ECHL."

Nick Bootland, who guided the K-Wings to a 44-29-3 record in his first season as a head coach at any level, will return next season. The 30-year-old Bootland played two seasons in the ECHL (2001-03) with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Wade Welsh will be the team's GM.

Kalamazoo has yet to land an NHL affiliation, although discussions are ongoing. While the Detroit Red Wings would have been ideal, Detroit General Manager Ken Holland confirmed that the Western Conference champs have signed on with the Toledo Walleye, who will begin play in the ECHL this October.

Possible affiliations for Kalamazoo include Minnesota, Buffalo, Boston and Tampa Bay.

"We're going to look at what's available and what our options are and then make a decision as to whether we want to affiliate or remain independent or a combination thereof," Pickard said.
Joining Kalamazoo in the North Division in 2009 will be Toledo, the Johnstown Chiefs, Elmira Jackals, Wheeling Nailers and Cincinnati.

Toledo -- just 150 miles from Kalamazoo -- will play in the state-of-the-art Lucas County Downtown Arena this October. Based on geography alone, one has to believe an intense rivalry will develop once the puck drops.

"It'll be good," Pickard said. "It'll be exciting with our first year, their first year back in their new building. We'll be able to renew that rivalry. Also with Cincinnati being in a league formerly with the K-Wings, that'll be good as well.

"We're very excited for our fans and the community of Southwest Michigan. We're looking forward to working with our new partners in the ECHL."

Gulutzan moves up -- After a tremendous run with the Las Vegas Wranglers, Glen Gulutzan was named coach of the American Hockey League's Texas Stars this week.

Gulutzan, 37, was the only coach in Wranglers history, compiling a record of 254-124-21-34 over six seasons. Las Vegas reached the Kelly Cup Playoffs five times and had 100 or more points from 2005-08.

Texas is the new top affiliate of the Dallas Stars.

"Whenever you get an opportunity to be a head coach at a higher level, in the second-best league in the world, you have to take it," Gulutzan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Ultimately you want to coach in the NHL, but you have to go through a progression, especially a guy like myself, who has never played in the NHL or (AHL)."

Around the ECHL -- John Marks, the ECHL's all-time winningest coach, will guide the IHL's Dayton Gems in 2009-10. … Stockton Thunder coach Matt Thomas was rewarded with a two-year contract extension after leading the club to a 22-16-3 record and a berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Thomas replaced Chris Cichocki on Dec. 29, 2008, after the Fresno Falcons ceased operations. … Former ECHL goalie Nathan Marsters died June 8 when a deer crashed through the windshield of his pickup truck in his native Ontario. Marsters, 29, appeared in 91 games with Louisiana, Augusta and Wheeling. He made 56 saves in Louisiana's 5-3 win against Pensacola on March 29, 2005. … The Gwinnett Gladiators sent forward Andy Brandt to the South Carolina Stingrays to complete the Nov. 13, 2008 deal for goalie Josh Johnson, who re-signed with Gwinnett. … The Utah Grizzlies acquired the rights to defenseman Slavomir Tomko from the Elmira Jackals to complete the Nov. 8, 2008 trade for center Brandon Scero. … The Idaho Steelheads agreed to terms with forward Matt McKnight and defenseman Weston Tardy. … The Cincinnati Cyclones traded forward Kyle Rank and defenseman Joe Ryan to the Reading Royals to complete the future considerations portion of a March 9 trade that sent Mac Faulkner and Gerard Miller to Cincinnati. The Royals also signed defenseman Dinos Stamoulis. … Veteran forward Ernie Hartlieb has re-signed with the Florida Everblades.

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