The Indy Fuel, the city’s new minor league professional hockey team, on Tuesday announced it has signed a five-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League.
Given the fan following for the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in central Indiana, the agreement stands to be a significant boost for the Fuel, who begin play in October at the renovated Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
“We are honored to be joining the Blackhawks family, a truly first-class organization with which we share a common philosophy of the game, direction for the team and mutual commitment to our communities,” said Indy Fuel President Sean Hallett in a prepared statement. “Chicago already has a strong fan base in Indianapolis, and the Blackhawks are a winning organization with a strong emphasis on the development of up-and-coming young talent.”
Blackhawks officials said they were enthusiastic about strengthening the team's player-development system and maintaining a presence in the ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League), the premier "AA" league serving as a pipeline to the NHL. The Blackhawks will complete a five-year affiliation with the Toledo Walleye at the completion of the 2013-14 ECHL season.
“We are excited to begin this new partnership with the Indy Fuel,” said Mark Bernard, Blackhawks general manager of minor league affiliations, in a statement. “The Blackhawks and the city of Indianapolis have a history of developing many players that have had successful National Hockey League careers, and we look forward to doing the same with the Fuel and our deep group of talented prospects.”
The ECHL is one of two minor leagues for the National Hockey League. Based in Princeton, N.J., the 26-year-old league has more than 20 teams in cities across the United States, including Fort Wayne, Evansville, Cincinnati, Toledo and Kalamazoo.
This won't be the first time the Blackhawks are affiliated with an Indianapolis franchise. The Indianapolis Ice were the Blackhawks' main affiliate from 1989 to 1998. The Ice played in the International Hockey League from 1988 to 1999 and in the Central Hockey League from 1999 to 2004.
The Blackhawks share another historic tie to Indianapolis. Former Blackhawks owner Arthur Wirtz was president of the Indianapolis Coliseum Corp., which built the coliseum in 1939, and has been called the "father of Indianapolis hockey."
Wirtz's grandson, Rocky, now owns the Blackhawks.