The Seattle Kraken have a new ECHL affiliate.
A multi-year partnership has been struck between the Kraken and the Kansas City Mavericks, serving to develop prospects in a formal affiliation agreement, announced by Mavericks co-owner Lamar Hunt Jr. in a team event on Thursday.
“It’s about stability, commitment, consistency and presence,” Hunt said.
The new arrangement replaces the Allen Americans as the Kraken affiliate at pro hockey’s “double A” level, originally branded the East Coast Hockey League but shifting to an acronymic brand when the league expanded to a coast-to-coast operation nearly 20 years ago. Like other pro sports with a minor league system, prospects in this case are called up or reassigned between levels, involving Kansas City and Coachella Valley Firebirds of the American Hockey League.
The Firebirds, functioning as the Kraken “triple A” level-type affiliate, will open play as an expansion team this fall.
“We’re looking for good partners and places for our players to play and develop in their journey of becoming pro hockey players,” Firebirds director of hockey and business operations Troy Bodie told 93.3 KJR. “
“(We’re) hopefully having them develop and be ready when we need some help up in Coachella Valley.”
A key figure in the new affiliation is Mavericks general manager and head coach Tad O’Had, a native of Yakima. But aside from geographic coincidences, his connections resemble a standard practice of business when it comes to NHL and ECHL partners.
Affiliations at the ECHL level tend to come from a relationship-based business.
O’Had was behind the bench as assistant coach for seven years with the Florida Everblades, then an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, who came within one win of the Kelly Cup title in 2017-18 and lost in a seven-game series to the Colorado Eagles (who have since moved up to the AHL).
Who was involved inside the affiliation with O’Had, and now stitched with the Seattle partnership?
It was none other than Ron Francis and Ricky Olczyk, now a part of the Kraken hockey boardroom, who flew to Kansas City to meet with O’Had and arrange the partnership.
The hockey world is a small world.
“It’s how they operate,” said O’Had. “They stand by their word and they’re true to their word.”
“The year we went to the Kelly Cup Final, it had a lot to do with the talent from Carolina.”
Their offensive driving force, Mitchell Heard, was sent to the Everblades on a two-way contract with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte and led the team in scoring. Center Steven Lorentz, who has since debuted in the NHL, played a major role on Florida’s Cup Final run.
Typically, ECHL rosters will house only a handful of prospects that can move up and down in a specific NHL team pipeline, instead of a full roster typical of minor league baseball. O’Had said “there isn’t a specific number” the Mavericks are expecting from the Kraken but was more bullish on the quality of potential talent available.
There’s also the ability to sell an ECHL program to incoming players, with the potential they will get called up to Coachella Valley.
“We’ve been having a lot of internal conversations – myself and (assistant coach) Riley Weselowski, and a really good read on ECHL talent that can help out in depth situation in the AHL,” said O’Had.
Bodie knows about the journey for players – like Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger on the Kraken roster – aiming to make the NHL while getting in time at the ECHL level.
He was one of them. After scoring his first career goal as an Edmonton Oilers drafted prospect just seconds after jumping off the bench for a change in his pro debut, Bodie pumped in 21 goals and 38 points as a 2006-07 league all-star selection and imposing 6-foot-5 forward for the Stockton Thunder, who were the Oilers ECHL affiliate at the time.
He played the rest of his nine-year career in either the AHL or National Hockey League.
“I do remember my time (in the ECHL) and it was a great steppingstone for me, as a player who wasn’t ready for AHL hockey,” said Bodie. “I needed just a little more time to develop. Instead of playing on the fourth line or sitting out a ton, it was beneficial for me to go there and play key minutes and play in key situations.”
And he knows about the drill whenever there’s an injury or call-up to Seattle that leaves a roster spot open, and an opportunity for the next man up from Kansas City to the desert, where Bodie said there is consistent interest from incoming players about the venue, fan base, and city accommodations the Firebirds are preparing to share with their roster.
“We’re in constant contact,” said Bodie. “When we feel there’s either an injury or a need – we’ll be in touch.”
Kansas City, who opens their 2022-23 season on Oct. 22, was previously an ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, who had their AHL outpost in Stockton as part of the affiliation over the past five seasons.
Coachella Valley, who will conduct training camp in Seattle, will start the first nine weeks of the season away from the desert while their home ice, Acrisure Arena, finishes construction. Three regular season games in the Seattle area will be a part of that stretch, on Oct. 21 against Abbotsford, and a two-game series against AHL Calgary on Oct. 28-29.