TORONTO– After spending all of last season without an ECHL affiliate, Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis announced earlier this week that Toronto has formed a new partnership with the Orlando Solar Bears for the 2013 season.
“The Leafs are extremely pleased to have the Orlando Solar Bears as our new ECHL affiliate,” said Nonis in a press release. “Our organization feels that Orlando will be a terrific environment for our prospects to continue their hockey development.”
By partnering with the Solar Bears, the Leafs organization instantly improves its player development strategy that had holes in 2012.
Last season, after its agreement with the ECHL’s Reading Royals expired, Toronto was left without an affiliation and had difficulty finding places for their prospects to play. Toronto did have a “working agreement” with the Fort Wayne Komets according to Leafs VP of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin, however no player ever went to Indiana.
While the NHL lockout played into the issue early in the season, Toronto had an inflated roster at the AHL level with the Marlies and it was the younger players who took the hit.
Jamie Devane and Andrew Crescenzi were healthy scratches until finding a home in San Francisco while Brad Ross and Sam Carrick stayed on the Marlies roster until landing in Idaho at different points of the season. Tyler Brenner split time between Bakersfield and Toledo and goaltender Mark Owuya suited up for both Las Vegas and Reading.
Some benefits to an agreement with the Solar Bears are that the players now have some comfort in knowing where they will go if they don’t make the Marlies while the organization can also keep an eye on all their talent with one phone call to one coach. No longer will prospects have to sit out as healthy scratches and stunt their development. Also, Orlando is a bonus for the club in terms of travel and time-zone.
“I am very excited for the opportunity to work with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies in developing their players and prospects in a great hockey environment here in Orlando,” said Solar Bears head coach Vince Williams on the team website.
Despite the Marlies naming Steve Spott as their new head coach and turning the focus towards developing younger players, only so many spots on the AHL club will be available come October and the remaining bodies will need a place to call home.
The Solar Bears are also affiliated with the Minnesota Wild.