Minor league hockey returns to Orlando in 2012

In 2001, the International Hockey League, which co-existed with the AHL as the top-tier minor league for NHL teams, folded.  The fate of it's teams were mixed.  Some, like the Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals and Utah Grizzlies, joined the rival American Hockey League and kept on going.  Others, like the 2000-2001 Turner Cup champion Orlando Solar Bears, outright ceased operations.

It appears the Solar Bears did not get shot and stuffed on an economic mantle with other defunct franchises though.  They were just in extended hibernation.

On Tuesday, the ECHL - the minor league that operates below the AHL -- announced that Orlando would be home to an expansion hockey team starting in 2012.  The franchise will be known as the Solar Bears and will play its games in Amway Center.  San Francisco also has a team starting play in 2012, named the Bulls.

The Solar Bears become Florida's second current ECHL franchise. The Florida Everblades have been operating in Estero since 1998. Florida has also hosted several ECHL affiliates in the past, including the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, the Jacksonville Lizard Kings, the Miami Matadors, and Pensacola Ice Pilots.

The Lightning currently have an affiliation with the Everblades. They share that affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes.