Another of the Blackhawks' rivals will have a presence in the Chicago market with Wednesday's announcement that the Chicago Express will be affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Express, an expansion minor league hockey team, open ECHL play on Oct. 22 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Both President and General Manager Wade Welsh and head coach Steve Martinson touted the suburban Chicago location as a draw for Columbus in developing its players.
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"It's very exciting. They (Columbus team officials) can go to a Blackhawks-Columbus game and catch an Express game before or after," Welsh said.
The Columbus Blue Jackets debuted in 2000 and joined the Blackhawks in the NHL's Central Division. They've had an eventful offseason, acquiring former Philadelphia Flyers star Jeff Carter and former Blackhawks defensemen James Wisniewski.
"We are very pleased to add the Chicago Express as an affiliate for this season," Columbus Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland said in a news release. "Player development is critical for an organization to achieve long-term success and Chicago will provide a tremendous opportunity for some of our young players to gain valuable experience."
Last month, the Chicago Wolves, which play at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont in the AHL, announced they would be affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks, which lost in this year's Stanley Cup Finals. The AHL is considered "AAA" minor league hockey, or one level above the ECHL.
The Express will also be affiliated with the Springfield Falcons from the AHL.
Welsh said the Express is considering an affiliation with a second NHL team. Another affiliation would make the Express more attractive to players with the potential of scouts from two teams watching from the stands.
"We're not expecting to get a dozen players from one affiliate," Martinson said. "That was important to me because I've got a lot of important players that want to come."
While the Express has only announced one player signing -- defenseman Nathan Lutz, who briefly played with the Wolves in 2004-2005 -- Martinson said the team is waiting for word from other players. The mail carrier strike in Canada, which lasted two weeks, has slowed that process, as parcels containing contracts haven't arrived.
Martinson said the team doesn't have many spots left on the roster, but he's still recruiting.
Welsh noted that over 15 seasons, Martinson-coached teams have never missed the playoffs, then added, "I don't want to jinx anything."
The ECHL was formerly the East Coast Hockey League and has 20 active teams with affiliations with 28 of the 30 NHL teams.