With the news earlier this week that the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls are coming to San Jose for a game on December 17th, it seems like a good time to up our ECHL knowledge.
The 23-team ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League, got its start in 1988 and is considered on the relative skill level as baseball’s Double A (AA), 2 rungs below major league. Through the years the ECHL has ‘graduated’ 490 players to the NHL. Presently 25 of 30 NHL teams have affiliation to an ECHL club. The Sharks’ affiliation is with the Bulls.
The ECHL rose from the ashes of two folded leagues, the Atlantic Coast and All-American leagues. The league today is composed of 2 conferences with 5 divisions. Three divisions are in the east and 2 in the west. No regular season games are scheduled between the 2 conferences. But their respective champions do meet in the league finals. The ultimate winner takes home “The Kelly Cup”.
Through the years there have been 49 clubs, representing markets from Orlando to Alaska, from San Diego to Johnstown. Some the more colorful teams have been, the Knoxville Cherokees, Pensicola Pilots, Toledo Storm, Louisville Ice Frogs, New Orleans Brass, Columbus Cottonmouths and Arkansas River Blades.
The expansion San Francisco Bulls are in their inaugural season and play their home games at the famous Cow Palace. The same Cow Palace that the Sharks called home for their first 2 seasons.
In San Jose on December 17th the Bulls opponent will be Northern California’s other ECHL team, the Stockton Thunder. The Thunder are in their 7th season having come from a franchise that originally was located in Cincinnati, moved to Birmingham then to Atlantic City until they found a home in Stockton. The Thunder are an affiliate of the Oilers.
As of December 6th the Bulls sit in 3rd place in the Pacific Division with a 9-12-1-2 record. The ECHL uses a shootout to settle ties similar to the NHL, except they use 5 shooters rather than 3. Stockton has had a remarkable season thus far with a 13-5-2-1 record. Good for 2nd in the Pacific. The Southern California Ontario Reign lead the division with a 14-5-1-0 mark.
The Bulls top 2 scorers are Justin with 6 goals and 18 assists for 24 points and Dean Ouellet with 14-8-22.
Bowers is a 27 year old center from Nova Scotia. He scored a career-high 19 goals last season in Greenville. Ouellet is a 25 year old winger from New Brunswick. He played 4 years of junior in the QMJHL then 4 more in Canadian University hockey. Thus far Dean has been a special teams star netting 6 powerplay goals.
On the Stockton side Finnish rookie Toni Rajala ranks 8th in league scoring with 13-12-25. The 21 year old right winger was a 4th rounder in 2009 pick of the Edmonton Oilers.
While not of NHL caliber hockey, it is entertaining and hard hitting. Each player gives their all on every shift working toward the ultimate goal of making it in the NHL.
Hope to see a big crowd at HP Pavilion on Monday December 17th. Gametime is 7:30.