The ECHL will expand to 23 teams next season as the Fort Wayne Komets and Evansville IceMen, both formerly of the Central Hockey League, have joined the league.
The Komets, who just wrapped up their second season in the CHL by winning the Presidents Cup, will reignite their rivalry with the Kalamazoo Wings that dates back to the 1970’s when both teams were members of the International Hockey League.
Wrapping up their 60th year of professional hockey, the Komets also surpassed 7,000 fans in attendance for the 10th straight year. “The entire Komet organization is looking forward to facing off our first ECHL season this October,” said Komets President Michael Franke in a statement released by the ECHL. “Having such great nearby regional rivals like Evansville, Toledo, Kalamazoo and Cincinnati will help re-kindle Old Time Komet Hockey.”
The Evansville IceMen, also from Indiana will fit into the ECHL footprint nicely, creating another close rival for the K-Wings. “The IceMen organization is delighted to become a part of such an outstanding league as the ECHL,” said IceMen Owner/President Ron Geary in a statement released by the league. “Through their great support and enthusiasm, our growing numbers of loyal and devoted fans have demonstrated how much they want to see a top-flight, quality product. Our step today is another move in that direction. We have come a long way in a short period of time. This is a true testament and tribute to our fans and the Evansville/Tri-State community.”
Both teams are expected to join the K-Wings, Toledo Walleye and Cincinnati Cyclones in the North Division.
Starting last season with 20 teams, the Chicago Express folded following their first season, but the ECHL previously announced two expansion teams, the Orlando Solar Bears who will play in the American Conference and the San Francisco Bulls will play in the Western Conference.
In an interesting side note, the past two teams to win the CHL Championships both left the league following their wins. In 2011, the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs ceased operations two weeks after their win while the Komets will be joining the ECHL this upcoming season.
The Florida Everblades and Las Vegas Wranglers are tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals. The ECHL will be celebrating their 25th Anniversary when the season kicks off in October.