Last Thursday it was announced that the Minnesota Wild’s ECHL-affiliate, the Quad City Mallards, would be ending their partnership with both the Wild in St. Paul and the Iowa Wild in Des Moines. Instead, the Mallards will be joining with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL as the minor league affiliates of the Vegas Golden Knights. This is far from the first time the Wild have had to find a new affiliate, but there is one team currently without an NHL affiliation: the Ft. Wayne Komets.
After speaking with front office members of both the Mallards and the ECHL, Minnesota will not be sharing the affiliate with the Golden Knights like other NHL teams have done before (Detroit and Chicago shared the Toledo Walleye before the Blackhawks partnered up with Indianapolis in 2013). Instead, the Wild will have to go ECHL team shopping once again.
Beginning their partnership in 2013, the Mallards were the eighth ECHL affiliate of the Wild since their inception in 2000 (ninth total if counting the 2006-07 Austin Ice Bats of the CHL). In three full seasons in the organization, the Mallards were a perennial playoff contender, though they never made it out of the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs under Terry Ruskowski, a former Minnesota North Star. Last season, there were seven players under contract with the Minnesota Wild playing in the Quad Cities, five of them are under contract through next season. With Iowa operating on a full roster, Minnesota will need to find a place to develop some draft picks, and Fort Wayne, Indiana is looking like the place to be.
Though I’m sure that the Wild would rather have both of their affiliates in the border state of Iowa, Ft. Wayne is coming off of an unaffiliated season after the Colorado Avalanche signed on with the Colorado Eagles in nearby Loveland for the 2016-17 season. The Komets play in the Central Division, as the Mallards did, and made it to the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs this season. This was their fourth playoff appearance under Gary Graham who has been with the club since their IHL days, save one season where he won a SPHL championship in 2012-13 with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. It was also coincidentally the only season Ft. Wayne didn’t make the playoffs since joining the ECHL.
If your Minnesota-Chicago rivalry runs two leagues deep, the Komets would have an in-state rivalry with the Indy Fuel, who signed on with Chicago as an expansion franchise in 2013. In terms of player development, the Central Division has three other teams affiliated with Central Division clubs in the AHL: Toledo Walleye (Grand Rapids Griffins/Detroit), Tulsa Oilers (Manitoba Moose/Winnipeg), and of course the Mallards (Chicago Wolves/Vegas). Ft. Wayne also appears to be a great hockey environment. Despite being unaffiliated, they posted the largest home attendance record in the entire league at “The Jungle”; averaging more than 3,500 more fans per game than the Quad Cities.
Ft. Wayne opens the 2017-18 ECHL season at home against the Toledo Walleye on October 14th.