Brooklyn Boro

Islanders expand minor league affiliations

Will Have ECHL Squad in Worcester, MA for 2017-18 Season

May 2, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Matthew Barzal, the Isles’ first-round pick in 2016, is still skating, albeit for Seattle of the Western Hockey League as they begin pursuit of the WHL title Friday night. AP Photo by Kathy Kmonicek
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While much of the current chatter surrounding the Brooklyn-based New York Islanders centers around their potential departure from our borough, the franchise announced last week that they are expanding their minor league affiliations.

The Islanders, who will be entering their third, and perhaps final campaign at Barclays Center in 2017-’18, revealed Friday that they had reached an affiliation agreement with the Worcester Railers Hockey Club of the ECHL for the upcoming season.

Worcester joins the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers as the primary minor league clubs of the Islanders, who can opt out of their Barclays Center deal as early as the end of next season.

“We are excited to partner with the Worcester Railers Hockey Club as our new ECHL affiliate and bring professional hockey back to an already established hockey city,” Islanders President and General Manager Garth Snow said.

“The proximity of having our ECHL team within driving distance from Bridgeport [Connecticut] and the Islanders is a definite benefit,” he added.

The Islanders indicated just two weeks ago through NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, that they will make a proposal to build a new arena in Belmont, N.Y.

The land around Citi Field in Flushing has also been mentioned as a potential landing spot for the formerly Long Island-based club, which can have its previously “iron-clad, 25-year pact” with Barclays terminated by the arena following the 2018-’19 season.

Poor ice conditions, obstructed-view seating, low attendance and the $50 million-plus a year payout the team gets from Barclays have all contributed to what is appearing more and more like it will be a mutual split.

But for now, the Islanders are staying put and continuing the business of day-to-day operations out of Brooklyn without commenting on the ever-swirling reports of their departure.

“The Railers great ownership group, led by Cliff Rucker, has set a platform for our prospects to develop their game in their brand new practice facility, Worcester Ice Center facility,” Snow added. “We’ve had several members of the current Islanders team play games in the ECHL and look forward to continuing that trend with the Railers.”  

The Railers will play their inaugural season in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference, starting in October. Founded in 2016, the Railers are the first-ever ECHL franchise to play in the state of Massachusetts.

“The Worcester Railers are thrilled to become affiliates with a first-class organization in the New York Islanders,” Railers General Manager and Head Coach Jamie Russell said.

“We are looking forward to working closely with the organization to help develop their prospects, while at the same time having the overall goal to win hockey games.”

The Railers will play their home games at the DCU Center and practice at the new state-of-the-art multiuse dual rink facility Worcester Ice Center, located in the heart of the Canal District in Worcester.  

“Our new affiliation with the Islanders includes integration into their scouting system, strength and conditioning program and training camps, among other things,” Russell said.

“We are excited for the players and the fans as we bring a whole new level of professional hockey to Massachusetts and are paired up with an organization that has been built through its development to become a perennial playoff contender.”

The Isles missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons earlier this year despite a strong second-half push under newly minted full-time head coach Doug Weight.

Team captain and two-time Hart Trophy (MVP) finalist John Tavares will become a free agent following next season, meaning the Isles will have to do their best to give their top player an idea of where the organization is headed, both geographically and personnel-wise, going forward if they hope to keep him in Orange and Blue.

Isle Have Another: A pair of Islander prospects who may eventually play in Worcester were still in the process of finishing up their 2016-’17 campaigns. Twenty-year-old goaltender Linus Soderstrom, the Isles’ 2014 fourth-round pick (95th overall), backstopped HV71 to the Swedish Hockey League title on Saturday night. The SHL is the premier professional hockey league in Sweden and this is the fifth title for HV71. Also, Matthew Barzal, New York’s first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2016 draft, helped the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League to the WHL Finals against the Regina Pats, beginning Friday night. Barzal, 19, has amassed 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) during the T-Birds’ 10 playoff games thus far … On the international scene, Isles goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will play for Team Germany beginning Friday night in the IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France. Anders Lee, the Isles’ top goal-scorer last season, and Brock Nelson will play for Team USA at the event, and Calvin de Haan will skate for Team Canada.


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