Right before the 2014-15 season, the ECHL announced that they would no longer allow teams to have affiliations with more than one NHL team. At the time, the Tampa Bay Lightning shared the Florida Everblades with the Carolina Hurricanes. With the Everblades being owned by Peter Karmanos, the owner of the Hurricanes, it was obvious which team the Everblades would choose to keep as their NHL affiliate.
With less than 30 teams in the ECHL, the Lightning were left without a definite partner. In the end, the Lightning ended up with a bit of a wink, wink handshake agreement with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits who hosted several Lightning prospects and their 5th goaltender at various parts of the year.
But earlier this summer, the Lightning announced an affiliation agreement with the Kalamazoo Wings. The franchise originated in Madison Wisconsin playing in the UHL as the Madison Kodiak’s in the 1999-2000 season. After the season, they moved to Kalamazoo and renamed themselves the Wings as an homage to the original Kalamazoo Wings of the IHL that shuttered after the 1999-2000 season. The Wings continued in the UHL through the 2008-09 season after which the franchise joined the ECHL.
The franchise won a Colonial Cup in the UHL in 2005-06 for it’s only league championship. Since joining the ECHL, the Wings have qualified for the playoffs in 6 out of 7 seasons including the past 3. They’ve also won their division 4 times in that period. They have one Kelly Cup appearance, but lost in the Finals to the Alaska Aces in 2010-11.
One of the marquee events for the Kalamazoo Wings is the annual Green Ice game played on St. Patrick’s Day since 1982. With it’s success, the Wings have also introduced Pink Ice Game for Valentine’s Day, Orange Ice Game for Halloween, and a new creation the Blue Ice Game sponsored by Bell’s Brewery which is based in Kalamazoo. And my craft beer friends out there know the reputation of Bell’s Brewery.
With a solidified ECHL affiliate, the Lightning will now have a definite spot to send prospects and depth players for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. They will also be a place for the team to place a 5th goaltender in the event an injury requires another goalie to be sent to Syracuse. With any luck, the Wings will be competitive and be a good place for our lower end and younger prospects to get experience playing in a winning environment.