The North American Hockey League (NAHL) has announced that its Board of Governors has accepted the membership application for an expansion team in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The team, which will be named the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings, will begin play for the 2011-12 season and play its games out of the 1,500-seat Wings West facility.
“The Kalamazoo market is an exciting addition to our league, given our already-strong presence in Michigan and the community’s passion and support for hockey across the local spectrum,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “That, coupled with an experienced ownership group committed to growing the sport of hockey and the success of aspiring student-athletes hoping to reach the collegiate and professional ranks, offers so much potential, on and off the ice.”
William D. Johnston, president, director and chairman of Greenleaf Companies, a hospitality group that owns and operates the Stadium Management Company, owns the team. His enterprise includes the Wings Stadium Complex, which is comprised of three facilities, including Wings West, and five sheets of ice, as well as the Kalamazoo Wings’ minor-professional hockey team that plays in the ECHL.
Paul L. Pickard, the ECHL team’s president and governor, will also serve as the Jr. K-Wings’ president. He is also president of Wings Stadium, home of the ECHL team, and Wings West.
The original owner, general manager and head coach of the original Jr. K-Wings team that played in the NAHL from 1988-94, Pickard was an All-CCHA defenseman at Ferris State University before playing two seasons of professional hockey, including time in Kalamazoo with the International Hockey League’s (IHL) Wings from 1981-83.
Pickard boasts an extensive coaching and executive resume at both the junior and professional levels, having worked for teams in various capacities in the American Hockey League, ECHL, IHL United Hockey League and United States Hockey League, in addition to the NAHL.
He also served as president, commissioner and chief operating officer of the IHL from 2007-09.
“We’re excited to reunite with the NAHL,” said Pickard. “The league has done an outstanding job of emphasizing the importance of education, and bringing the Jr. K-Wings back gives local players who are talented enough an opportunity to use the NAHL as a steppingstone to Division I college hockey.”
The Jr. K-Wings are the fifth NAHL team to call Michigan home, joining the Michigan Warriors (Flint), Motor City Metal Jackets (Trenton), Port Huron Fighting Falcons and Traverse City North Stars.
Not only does Kalamazoo hold a strong tradition of professional hockey - the K-Wings, in various leagues, have played at Wings Stadium since 1974 - it also has a long and storied history in the NAHL. During the original Jr. K-Wings’ existence, the team won two Robertson Cup championships (1991, 1993) while developing over 50 players for Division I hockey.
One of its graduates, Mike Knuble, played four years at the University of Michigan before embarking on a lengthy career in the NHL. He’s currently in his second season with the Washington Capitals.
In addition, Adam Hall, a Kalamazoo native now playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, skated in the NAHL as a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program during the 1997-98 season.
“It’s no secret that the state of Michigan has been one - if not the top - developers of collegiate and professional talents in the country, and Kalamazoo has certainly experienced its fair share of success,” said Frankenfeld. “Given the NAHL’s commitment to development and exposure to the higher levels, we have little doubt the region will groom even more elite players the American hockey community will hear from for years to come.”
With its close proximity to dozens of other NCAA and junior programs, Kalamazoo, home to Western Michigan University, which ices a team in the CCHA, as well as the West Michigan Hounds, a AAA youth program, offers simple logistical access for coaches and scouts, which adds to the Jr. K-Wings’ appeal in terms of exposure.
“There are so many top-end college hockey programs, not to mention the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, right in Kalamazoo’s backyard,” said Frankenfeld. “As a league, that’s a key element to our model and one the Jr. K-Wings have instantly accomplished given their desirable location.”
“This team will identify our company’s commitment to being a model community in the United States,” Pickard added.
For more information on the Jr. K-Wings, visit JrKWings.com.