ECHL absorbs seven teams as Central Hockey League folds

The minor league hockey landscape in the U.S. saw a dramatic shift on Tuesday.

The Central Hockey League has folded. The ECHL has picked up the pieces.

The ECHL’s Board of Governors on Tuesday announced that they’ve accepted the membership requests of seven former CHL teams: The Allen Americans, Brampton Beast, Missouri Mavericks, Quad City Mallards, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder.

That brings the ECHL to 28 teams in 20 states, with one Canadian franchise in Ontario. From the ECHL:

“The ECHL is very pleased to welcome these new Members to the League,” said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. “These additions strengthen our base in the center of the country and give the ECHL, for the first time, a true national presence. It expands our ability to act as a development league and more closely aligns our number of teams with both the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League.

“There will be logistical challenges in the short term, however, in the long term, it is certainly in the best interest of the ECHL, the new Members and minor-league hockey in general,” McKenna added.

The move had been rumored all summer after the CHL dropped to seven teams, following the folding of the St. Charles Chill, the one-year suspension of operations from the Denver Cutthroats and the indefinite suspension of operations by the Arizona Sundogs.

What does this mean for minor league hockey?

Gwinnett Gladiators president Steve Chapman put it this way, “"For the first time in the history of pro hockey, there is a clear AAA, AA and A level. It is a historic day for hockey."

Indeed it is, and now comes the fun part: Figuring out how the pieces fit. The ECHL says that it's still working on its nw alignment, playoff format and other aspects. Oh, and this from goalie Mike McKenna:

[ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Hockey: It's time to join a league today! ]

Let the fun begin!