As a “minor” league not affiliated in any way with baseball, the ECHL – like other minor pro sports leagues – can sometimes face difficulty coming across as just as legitimate as other offerings to less-than-hardcore fans.
So naturally, the fact that a two-time winner of the ECHL’s grandest prize, the Kelly Cup, decided to steal the darn thing didn’t help matters.
Let’s back up a bit: back in 2017 and 2018, the Colorado Eagles – now an American Hockey League (AHL) team – won the grand prize sought every season by teams like the Fort Wayne Komets. It was a pair of proud moments for the team and the league, as the playoffs both of those years went without a logistic hitch.
Then the 2018-2019 season started, but the Cup never returned to the league. You see, much like the Stanley Cup in the NHL, the Kelly Cup is supposed to return to the league after the winning team gets some time with it in the offseason. But in this case, it stayed with Eagles owner Martin Lind, who said the ECHL owed him $800,000 and “dishonored the game of hockey.”
This coming from the guy who held a trophy hostage.
Lind told the Denver Post that the dispute stemmed out of not being reimbursed for making an “expansion-fee sale” to Newfoundland instead of allowing the teams to negotiate a transfer fee when the Eagles went to the next-highest professional league and the Newfoundland team, the Growlers, took the Eagles’ place in the ECHL.
“I would implore them to sue me. I would welcome it,” he said at the time.
However, he told ESPN a slightly different story than what he told the Post, saying he had made “numerous attempts” to return the trophy and that the league had “ignored” his requests.
Either way, the ECHL ended up making a new Kelly Cup – won, ironically, by Newfoundland – and we assumed that was that.
Until this past Monday, when the Growlers handed the cup over to ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin, creating a whole new batch of headlines and reminding everyone that “oh yeah, that happened. Wow, what a weird league.”
“The return of the Kelly Cup is great news for hockey,” said ECHL Commissioner Emeritus Patrick J. Kelly. “To continue the passage of Kelly Cup from champion to champion is an honor and tradition that I look forward to continuing.”
Maybe this time, put a GPS tracker or something on it.