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Bok Center

Tulsa Oilers, BOK Center (Photo: All Rights Reserved, Patricia Teter, 2012.)

Update: October 4, 2014

Fellow Tend the Farm writer Eric Rodgers has explored the CHL lawsuit and gives his impressions in ECHL-CHL Absorption: What’s the Hold-Up?

Update: October 1, 2014

Is the ECHL expanding? Will the CHL be absorbed into the ECHL? What is fact and what is mere rumor in this entire endeavor? Unfortunately for fans, media and even the teams themselves at times, the situation has been incredibly fluid, almost like a river, ebbing and flowing, a “now it’s on” and “now it’s off” type of situation.

There is no doubt about the fact that the ECHL and CHL have been quietly planning, re-organizing and rescheduling in order to absorb the Central Hockey League teams. For some time now we’ve been hearing of the possibility of CHL teams being admitted into the ECHL league and this weekend came more substantial proof — at least for me! — that this was really happening. If this was not the minors, a reporter like Bob McKenzie would have broken this news wide open a couple of weeks ago and continued to report on it throughout this entire process.

As always in these situations there have been a number of stumbling blocks along the way — scheduling, rules, rosters, money, owners and locations — on both sides of this “merger.” And that term “merger” itself has been a huge issue of heated disagreement since the ECHL is actually absorbing the CHL. There is no true merger of the two leagues, but that is merely a matter of semantics and shouldn’t be a major persnickety discussion. Just enjoy the additional hockey.

When you consider the undertaking of such an endeavor it is rather amazing that the two leagues have been able to accomplish so much in what seems like so little time. However let’s not forget that this concept has been floating around for a while now. Several CHL teams have attempted the move to the ECHL on an individual basis the past couple of seasons.

When will we see the CHL and ECHL release an official announcement regarding the specific details? No idea at all, however, unless some huge last minute insurmountable issues arise, my best guess would be this week. The latest news is that at least some, if not all, CHL teams will carry on with their previous schedule and open training camps on October 13th, while their players have the option of joining their teams later this week to begin skating. The ECHL is scheduled to open their training camps on October 6th. At this point it sounds like the CHL teams will not play ECHL teams until later in the season — how long or how many teams is uncertain, but we should begin to learn more details very soon. This makes sense due to the fact that the majority of the ECHL schedule would have to be redone and that itself is not an easy nor quick task. This is a relatively simple solution that allows the majority of the CHL teams to perhaps form their own “division” and add some games against current ECHL teams into their schedule a bit later.

For those ECHLers who are unfamiliar with the CHL, as I wrote in an earlier article, the Central Hockey League is a small surviving piece of the Wild West, that wild and woolly, brash and constantly in your face league that charms and alarms you at the same time. But let’s not forget that it’s also about some good hockey — take a look at the Wichita Thunder coached by Kevin McClelland who has an outstanding resume dating back to the Edmonton Oilers’ glory years and their four Stanley Cups.

One of the most historic teams in the West is the Tulsa Oilers, which in its many incarnations dates back to 1928 as a team in the American Hockey Association. Over the years some rather famous hockey players passed through the Tulsa organizations and among that group are the Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry; Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Pronovost played and coached the Oilers; five players from the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team; and George McPhee, former General Manager of the Washington Capitals, among many others. As for the current Tulsa Oilers team, they, along with the Wichita Thunder, are the original surviving teams that made up the revived CHL league when it was founded in 1992.

As a longtime NHL fan who came to the minors relatively late, I for one will relish this close-up adventure watching the CHL merge into a brand new era — Allen, Tulsa and Wichita are all within easy road trip distances from OKC. And having watched a great deal of ECHL hockey last season, a new expanded ECHL should prove very fascinating! Buckle up and enjoy!