The Wichita Thunder had a big announcement scheduled for Tuesday. The announcement surrounded that fact that the team was going to end their one-year affiliation with the Ottawa Senators, but before the announcement could be given, the ECHL released a statement that the Thunder would be switching divisions for the upcoming season.
The ECHL’s Board of Governors meeting concluded Tuesday morning and the league released a statement providing the details for realignment for the 2017-18 season. The Thunder had been in the Central Division but, with the Alaska Aces ceasing operations, the ECHL announced that the Thunder would leave the Central Division and would now be joining the Mountain Division. The Tulsa Oilers will also be moving from the Central, keeping the rivalry between these two teams alive, and the Kansas City Mavericks, formerly the Missouri Mavericks, will move from the Mountain Division to the Central.
The Wichita Thunder will have quite the daunting task for the upcoming campaign. They join the division that includes the Allen Americans, Colorado Eagles, Rapid City Rush, Utah Grizzlies, and Idaho Steelheads. Not only did Allen have the ECHL’s second best record (104-points), but Colorado won the Kelly Cup Title this past year. Adding to the challenge are the Utah Grizzlies, who won 43-games and recorded 93-points. All but one team in this division finished above .500 this past season.
Other changes in the league begin with the folding of the Elmira Jackals franchise, which will be replaced by the Worcester Railers in the North Division. In the South Division, the league’s second expansion team starts their inaugural season, as the Jacksonville IceMen join the ECHL. To accommodate the addition, the Cincinnati Cyclones move to the Central Division. The ECHL will still field 27-teams this season.
At the regularly scheduled press conference, the Thunder announced that the team will now be affiliated with the Edmonton Oilers. This creates an interesting scenario, because the Kansas City Mavericks are now affiliated with the Calgary Flames, making the rivalry between the two teams even more intense. As GM Joel Lumurno said, “This is the battle for Alberta and the battle for Kansas.”
The affiliation should really bolster the Thunder’s team for next season. While the Edmonton Oilers are not considered to have one of the deepest groups in their minor league system, there is a great deal of depth in terms of defenseman and the wingers in the team’s minor league system have a great deal of skill. The Oilers also have multiple draft picks in several rounds in the upcoming amateur draft. This should really help to improve the Thunder’s depth as well.
The affiliation agreement is for one-year with the prospect of extending the deal following the season.
By Robert Pannier