Last year was the last season for the beloved American Hockey League (AHL) hockey team the Worcester Sharks. Their National Hockey League (NHL) affiliate, the San Jose Sharks, decided that the trip from coast to coast was too far for any players they would potentially call up. As a result, they were relocated to San Jose, making the trip as short as possible, and renamed the San Jose Barracuda. This left Worcester, the second largest city in New England, without any form of a professional sport team. Other cities that have some level of professional sport team include, Portland (Portland Sea Dogs and Maine Red Claws), Lowell (Lowell Spinners), Springfield (Springfield Falcons), Burlington (Vermont Lake Monsters), Manchester (New Hampshire Fisher Cats), Hartford (Hartford Yard Goats), Providence (Providence Bruins), Pawtucket (Pawtucket Red Sox), Foxboro and of course Boston. Worcester is larger than Burlington, Pawtucket and Portland combined and more than ten times larger than Foxboro.
Seeing the vacancy in such a major city, and Worcester’s support for a hockey team, the Eastern Coast Hockey League (ECHL), not limited to east coast teams, announced their plan to expand to Worcester. The ECHL is a low level hockey league that is recognised by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association. As a result, all of their teams are associated with an NHL team who their players may play for eventually and whose players may be sent down to play for them, just like the AHL. This Sunday it was announced that the team will be called the Worcester Railers due to Worcester’s prominent history with the railroad. The logo for the team features an old steam powered railroad with a “W” on the front as it emerges from a dramatic depiction of the seven hills of Worcester. On the bottom are two crossed hockey sticks with the letters “H” and “C” on either side, standing for “Hockey Club”. The name of the team is on top, and the entire emblem is in the team’s colors of blue and silver.
Information about many other aspects of the team will be announced slowly leading up to their first games in October 2017, including players, coach and NHL affiliate. There are currently five teams in the NHL that lack a ECHL affiliate: Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks. Of these, the New Jersey Devils would make the most sense based on location. However, the Boston Bruins’ current affiliate in the league is the Atlanta Gladiators. They signed a two year affiliate deal in September of 2015. This means that though they do have another year left on that contract, it will have expired by the time the new Worcester team begins playing in October of 2017, so the Bruins may choose to keep their affiliates local like they did when picking Providence and like San Jose did with the Barracuda.