For the 2017-18 hockey season, both the AHL and ECHL will experience some changes. On the ice, select teams in both circuits will play with new affiliates, while each league has experienced some franchise shifts that have resulted in a changed slate of markets.
The affiliation shuffle is something we will look at more closely in the coming weeks, but with the cities in each league likely set, now is a good time to highlight the arenas that are joining both circuits this season.
In the AHL, two franchise relocations have resulted two arenas—including one new and another that is being dramatically overhauled—joining the league for the 2017-18 campaign. The Laval Rocket will debut for the upcoming season at Place Bell, a new venue that opened this year. Place Bell includes a main 10,000-seat arena, along with a community rink and an Olympic size ice surface.
In shifting the St. John’s IceCaps to Laval, the Montreal Canadiens sought to bring their AHL affiliate closer to their home base. That decision, which has been something of a trend league wide, resembles one made by the Ottawa Senators, who will have a new AHL affiliate in the Belleville Senators.
After relocating from Binghamton, NY, the Belleville Senators will settle into Yardmen Arena. Yardmen Arena originally opened in 1978, and for many years was home to the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls, who used the arena through the 2014-15 season. As it prepares for a new era of hockey, Yardmen Arena is receiving an extensive overhaul that will lead to an increased seating capacity, new player amenities, and upgraded concourses and concessions.
The move of the Senators to Belleville was followed by another relocation, as the Albany Devils moved to Binghamton. The Devils will play at Veterans Memorial Arena, the former home of the Senators.
Meanwhile in the ECHL, two franchises are arriving this year. The expansion Worcester Railers will begin play this fall at the DCU Center, an arena that opened in 1982 and has plenty of experience hosting hockey. Most, recently it was the home of the AHL’s Worcester Sharks, who relocated to San Jose after the 2014-15 season. The Railers have been building up anticipation for their arrival to the arena, and recently announced that they will be an affiliate of the New York Islanders.
Down south, hockey is finally returning to Jacksonville. The former Evansville IceMen were expected to relocate to Owensboro, KY after sitting out the 2016-17 season, but the agreement to play in Owensboro eventually fell through. Earlier this year, it was announced that the IceMen were now the Jacksonville IceMen, and would begin play during the upcoming season.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena will serve as the team’s home. The arena first opened in 2003, and is located near two of Jacksonville’s other prominent sports venues—the Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the home of the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Class AA; Southern League). Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena does have previous experience as a hockey venue, as it is the former home of the Jacksonville Barracudas, a franchise that most recently played the 2007-08 season in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
The beginning of 2017-18 campaign is still months away, but with these arenas slated to arrive in their respective leagues, both the AHL and ECHL will be played out in some solid venues for the upcoming season.
Rendering of Place Bell courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens.
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