First, an introduction.
My name is Tracey Lake. You might know me from my blog, Thoughts Inside The Box, which for the last six years covered everything Albany Devils. Or you may also know me as Alex’s personal meditation coach during the Crunch’s Calder Cup run. (#BREATHE!)
Anyway, I am here to give you, the reader, some insight about your new ECHL affiliation, the Adirondack Thunder.
Where is Adirondack?
First off…the team doesn’t exactly play in a town called Adirondack. Sure, a town by that name does exist—it’s a small town in Essex County, on the shores of Schroon Lake in the northern part of New York.
The actual home of the Thunder is in Glens Falls, a small city on the Hudson River nestled in the Adirondack Mountains (hence the name). It sits 50 miles north of Albany, 200 miles north of New York City, and most importantly, an under-3-hour drive northeast from Syracuse.
The Thunder play in the newly named Cool Insuring Arena, formerly known as the Glens Falls Civic Center (the name change came in mid-July). It can seat around 4800, and has been open since 1979, when the first hockey tenants, the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, were born.
History of Adirondack Hockey
The Red Wings had quite a successful 20 year run in the American Hockey League, including four Calder Cups in 1981, 1986, 1989, and 1992. It also jumpstarted the coaching career of Barry Melrose, who would leave for Los Angeles on the heels of the ’92 Cup. Other famous alumni include Adam Oates, Randy McKay, Adam Graves, Ted Nolan, and many more. Crunch assistant coach Stacy Roest played there for three seasons in the mid-90s. Another fun fact? The Lightning split an affiliation with the Red Wings for two seasons, 1996-97 and 1997-98.
After the Red Wings folded in 1999, the former United Hockey League moved in, as the Adirondack IceHawks took the ice for the 1999-2000 season. The IceHawks would make the postseason four straight years, but could never get out of the second round.
Melrose and ESPN anchor Steve Levy would spearhead an ownership group that saved the team from folding late in the 2003-04 season, and renamed the team the Frostbite. The Frostbite aligned with the Springfield Falcons, who were the Lightning AHL affiliate at the time, for the 2004-05 season. After two years and two first round playoff exits, the Frostbite folded in 2006.
Three years later, the AHL would return to Glens Falls, as the Philadelphia Phantoms would move in as a temporary tenant while an arena was built in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Unlike the Red Wings, the Phantoms struggled on ice, not making the Calder Cup playoffs during their five season run.
But a few familiar names emerged: Patrick Maroon, Carter Hutton, Zac Rinaldo, Harry Zolnierczyk, just to name a few. Michael Leighton, Tye McGinn, and Nic Riopel (all familiar names in Crunch land) also spent time in Glens Falls during the Phantoms run.
After the Phantoms moved to Lehigh Valley in 2014, Calgary moved their AHL affiliate from Abbotsford to Glens Falls, and the Adirondack Flames arrived. Of course, they will probably be more famous for their mascot fail than actual on-ice play (remember Scorch?).
Midseason, the Flames would become one of five AHL teams that would move west to California to form the new Pacific Division. In exchange, Calgary would move their ECHL affiliate in Stockton to New York. Adirondack would take the ice as the ECHL Thunder in 2015.
In late February 2017, Calgary sold the team to a local group, the Adirondack Civic Center Coalition, who also owns the arena.
Keep Hockey Here
With local ownership in place, the Coalition kicked off the Keep Hockey Here campaign, with a goal of $1 million to take care of the purchase cost, league fees, and other expenses. Much like small town teams, they have used numerous fundraisers, such as a GoFundMe page and a silent memorabilia auction, to raise money.
Much like their counterparts in Syracuse, the team is heavily involved in the community, attending youth hockey practices, visiting schools, and even volunteer work such as working in the local soup kitchen.
In their two seasons in Glens Falls since joining the ECHL, the Thunder have been successful on ice. They have made the postseason both years, getting as far as the second round in 2016 before losing to South Carolina in the second round. Last season, they won the North Division title, but would bow out in the first round, losing to Manchester in six games.
The Thunder have had two players already make it to the NHL, both with New Jersey: goaltender Scott Wedgewood made a rehab start in December 2015 after an ankle injury, and would make his NHL debut with the Devils 3 months later. Goaltender Ken Appleby started 2016-17 in Glens Falls, would get recalled to Albany in November when Wedgewood got injured again, then got to backup Cory Schneider in New Jersey for one game in early March.
Crunch fans have the Thunder to thank for defenseman Mathieu Brodeur, who started last season in Adirondack before joining Syracuse on a PTO in December…and stuck for the remainder of the campaign.
Will there be more success stories like Brodeur’s? That’s the goal. But how the Lightning prospects will be used while sharing the team with New Jersey’s prospects will be interesting to see play out.