Updated: The East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) announced on Tuesday that they have accepted the Tulsa Oilers and the rest of what is now the former Central Hockey League as expansion teams for the 2014-15 season. The 11th hour approval occurred at a special meeting held in Chicago. The announcement ends months of speculation about the merger that began in the middle of the summer.
The ECHL now consists of 29 teams that stretch from Florida to Alaska and into Canada – divisional alignments were announced Thursday and included in the update of this story.
“The ECHL is very pleased to welcome these new Members to the League,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. “These additions strengthen our base in the center of the country and give the ECHL, for the first time, a true national presence. It expands our ability to act as a development league and more closely aligns our number of teams with both the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League.”
The announcement officially ends the reign of the Central Hockey League, which began play in 1992 with six teams. The league ballooned to as many as 18 teams over 23 years. The Tulsa Oilers were the first league champions in 1993, and the Allen Americans won back-to-back titles in 2013-2014 to close out the reign of the league.
As of this writing the opening date for the Oilers remains the same(10/24 on the road at Allen and 10/26 at home against Wichita), but that is subject to change as the league is going to have to reconfigure the divisional and conference alignment for the coming season.
The ECHL announced on Thursday the revised divisional alignment and format for the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs following the approval of seven expansion team on Tuesday.
The Tulsa Oilers will compete in the new Central Division of the ECHL and a large portion of the Oilers’ schedule will be played against Central Division opponents. Updates to the Oilers’ regular season schedule and training camp schedule will be released in the next few days.
As approved by the Board of Governors, the conference and divisional alignment for the 2014-15 season will be as follows:
Cincinnati Cyclones, Evansville IceMen, Fort Wayne Komets, Indy Fuel, Kalamazoo Wings
Toledo Walleye, Wheeling Nailers
Elmira Jackals, Florida Everblades, Greenville Road Warriors, Gwinnett Gladiators, Orlando Solar Bears, Reading Royals, South Carolina Stingrays
Allen Americans, Brampton Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder
Alaska Aces, Bakersfield Condors, Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, Ontario Reign, Stockton Thunder, Utah Grizzlies
The top four teams in each division during the regular season will qualify for the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs. All four rounds of the playoffs will be played in a best-of-seven format.
The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played entirely within the division with the division winner meeting the fourth-place finisher and the second-place finisher meeting the team that finished in third place in the Division Semifinals. The Division Finals will pit the winner of each series against each other. The winner of the North Division Finals will meet the winner of the East Division Finals in the Eastern Conference Finals while the winner of the Central Division will meet the winner of the Pacific Division Finals in the Western Conference Finals. The 2015 Kelly Cup Finals will see the Eastern Conference champion take on the Western Conference champion.