After traveling through the NHL developmental backwater wilderness without an ECHL affiliate the last few years, the New York Islanders again have a formal outpost for their excess goalies and midseason Jason Clark "get more ice time" moves: They have formed an official affiliation with the Stockton Thunder.
The Thunder. No, not that Thunder. This outfit is based in Stockton, Calif., and has been to the ECHL playoffs seven seasons in a row. They won the league's Western Conference last season. They probably like the idea of getting some Isles prospect scraps.
Of course, that means no quick ferry (okay, limo) rides like what they get when a prospect is called up from Bridgeport. But such callups aren't what an ECHL affiliation is really about anyway. This just means the Isles have a better, more assured landing spot for prospects, like Jason Clark last season when he was assigned to Gwinett, who need some playing time but can't necessarily get it at the AHL level yet.
(By CBA rule, players who are beyond their Entry Level Contract can only be sent to the ECHL with their permission.)
In particular, this could mean space for their goalies, of which they have several.
The Thunder, coached by former Islander Richard Kromm, expect to be assigned about five Islanders, including a goalie.
The classic ECHL success story is that of Andrew MacDonald, who did 15 games with ECHL Utah in 2007-08 and is now an NHL minutes muncher. (The Islanders release notes that Colin McDonald also played three games for Stockton in 2008-09. So we know Stockton is Mac-friendly.) But goalie-coveting fans might look to ECHL alum Jonathan Quick as why it's nice to have a place to stash your keepers.
Anyway, between A-Mac's time in Utah and now, Mikko Koskinen did time in
Las Vegas Utah, and the Isles had a little-used affiliation with ECHL Kalamazoo forged in 2010. But that agreement ended with no successor chosen until now.
The nice quote from that release in 2010 kind of tells you what these really are: "Having a strong ECHL affiliate is crucial to our organization’s future," Islanders General Manager, Garth Snow said back then.
"The culture of success in Stockton will benefit our prospects and develop them into better hockey players as they work their way from the ECHL, to the AHL and eventually playing for the New York Islanders," Snow says today.
It's not a big deal, but it's a helpful deal. The Isles already own the AHL Sound Tigers and now have a formal ECHL affiliation again. With them collecting more and more homegrown young players, it's good to have a little more say in when and where they can play.
As long as they don't take too strong a liking to California. (They probably won't. If you're unfamiliar, Stockton is not exactly what you picture in your California fantasies. Atmospherically, it's more "Slap Shot" than Malibu.)