By Matt Calamia
The New York Rangers and Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL announced a two-year extension to their affiliation agreement through the 2015-16 season.
The Road Warriors have been the team’s ‘AA’ affiliate since their inception in 2010.
“We are excited to continue our affiliation with Greenville for the next two seasons and look forward to working with Dean Stork and his staff as they help us develop our prospects for the NHL,” Rangers Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld said in a release.
Greenville Executive Vice President and General Manager Chris Lewis said this was the first time since he came aboard for the 2012-13 season that the agreement was more than just a one-year renewal.
“It’s great. We’re excited about it and we’re really looking to build out the relationship,” Lewis told BlueshirtsUnited.com Friday.
Lewis, who served as the ECHL’s Assistant Director of Marketing from 1997 through 1999, said the organization has seen significant growth in interest and attendance over the last several years despite Greenville being an “emerging market,” and competing with college football and minor league baseball.
“[Head coach] Dean [Stork] and [assistant coach] Dwayne [Zinger] have done a great job of crafting teams that are competitive every year,” said Lewis, who grew up a Rangers fan on Long Island.
Positive results leads to an increased interest from the community. During the team’s inaugural season in 2010-11, Stork led the squad to a 46-22-4 record and a South Division Conference title en route to nabbing the top-seed in the Eastern Conference. This past season, the team made it to the Eastern Conference Final, right alongside their parent team, the Rangers. Lewis said he and Schoenfeld would exchange texts following big games for both teams during their respective playoff runs, and that there was a “sense of pride that it was our affiliate” who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
The relationship proved its worth this past season when Cam Talbot, who played two games with the Road Warriors in 2010-11, played a big role for the Blueshirts.
Talbot exploded onto the NHL scene this past season going 12-6-1 with three shutouts in 21 games for the Blueshirts as a rookie.
“He was a mature man,” Stork recalled of Talbot. “He presented himself to us as coaches, was respectful to his teammates. I wasn’t surprised [he had the success he had]. He’s a solid goalie. He makes the saves he needs to make. All the best to Cam.”
Stork said to win in the ECHL, teams must have rosters littered with NHL prospects. This past season, the Road Warriors benefitted greatly from having a handful of Rangers prospects on the roster.
Forward Josh Nicholls scored 20 goals and 22 assists in 63 games and was named the team’s most improved player. Former Rangers draft pick Michael St. Croix notched 17 goals and 31 assists in 48 games. In goal, Jason Missiaen went 14-6-1 in 21 games.
“The relationship we have with the parent club in New York, we’re a little bit more groomed. [We have] better players under contract that are going to make a difference and help us win hockey games,” Stork said. “It’s not just an ECHL hockey team; it’s an ECHL team associated with an Original Six team.”
Greenville began wearing Rangers-themed jerseys during special home games, and Stork said it’s great for both the fans and the players.
“It’s special for our players in Greenville to put on a New York Rangers jersey on Sundays at home,” Stork said. “It really motivates our team to play even harder.”