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ECHL realignment follows AHL shifts

ECHLA definite ripple effect to the AHL realignment of this week: the ECHL realignment begins with the move of three teams and the loss of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Technically, the ECHL’s Board of Governors approved the move of three teams for the 2015-2016 season, as three ECHL teams are being replaced by AHL teams:

  • Bakersfield, Cal., to Norfolk, Va.
  • Ontario, Cal., to Manchester, N.H.
  • Stockton, Cal., to Glens Falls, N.Y.

The moves were part of a larger realignment that saw the AHL establish a five-team, all-California Pacific Division for 2015-2016. The five AHL franchise shifts:

  • Manchester to Ontario, Cal., as a Los Angeles Kings farm team.
  • Oklahoma City to Bakersfield as an Edmonton Oilers farm team.
  • Worcester to San Jose (temporarily) as a Sharks farm team.
  • Norfolk to San Diego as an Anaheim Ducks farm team.
  • Glens Falls (Adirondack) to Stockton as a Calgary Flames farm team.

“These transfers represent a major move by the ECHL and a significant transformation of the minor league hockey landscape,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said. “While we are exiting some strong, traditional ECHL markets in California, the move is in the best, long-term interest of hockey and will allow for better alignment in the development system.”

It’s not clear how these new teams will be branded: presumably, the Adirondack Flames will remain the Adirondack Flames under Calgary Flames ownership. And Norfolk would become the only Admirals in the ECHL: the team shared that moniker with Milwaukee in the AHL.

Left out in the cold: Oklahoma City and Worcester. Barons ownership had already announced the team would not be returning to the AHL next season, and it looks like deadlines are past to add an ECHL team. In Worcester, the loss of the Sharks means a loss of pro hockey at the DCU Center for 2015-2016. However, with the ECHL looking to add two more teams for 2016-2016 — rising to 30 teams — Worcester could remain in the mix for further expansion, perhaps with the backing of the Boston Bruins.

The other big news: the Las Vegas Wranglers are folding. The Wranglers were under a Voluntary Suspension for the 2014-15 season but were unable to find a location to play for the 2015-16 season and beyond. The team had played previous years in Thomas & Mack Center and the Orleans Arena, but after losing the Orleans lease the team had pitched a rooftop arena at downtown’s Plaza Hotel. That plan fell through, leaving the Wranglers without a home.

“We are disappointed that the Wranglers will not play in the 2015-16 season,” McKenna said. “The team had developed a strong following over the past decade at the Orleans Arena, which is an outstanding facility. We would like to thank the fans for their support and thank Gary Jacobs for his efforts on behalf of the Wranglers and the ECHL.”Despite the losses, the ECHL still has four teams comprising a western division: Idaho, Utah, Alaska and Colorado.

RELATED STORIES: It’s official: AHL five-team Cal division in 2015-2016; Five-team AHL Cal division in planning stages

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