Six weeks after more or less terminating their ECHL affiliation with the Johnstown Chiefs, the Tampa Bay Lightning issued a press release  today reporting that the team has entered into a one-year affiliation agreement with the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL. The Sea Wolves will serve as the Lightning's primary ECHL player developmental home for the 2007-2008 season. This marks a return by the Lightning organization to the Gulf Coast region and the ECHL Southeast Division, as Tampa had a multi-season affiliation with the Pensacola Ice Pilots prior to the affiliation with Johnstown.
Once a joint owner of the Chiefs which included managing the day-to-day Johnstown hockey operations, the Lightning's parntership with Johnstown soured after several disappointing seasons that culminated April 24 in the recall of all Tampa personnel from the Chiefs. The future of the Chiefs tenure in Johnstown has been the subject of much speculation as eroding attendance figures have cast financial shadows upon one of the ECHL's most storied franchises.
About the affiliation, Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster says â€œI had the opportunity to manage Coach Walby in Hershey, PA and he has also spent the past season working for us as a scout. He knows the game as well as anyone and he has a great ability to lead and develop young players.â€
â€œEveryone in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization is excited about our new partnership with the Mississippi Sea Wolves,â€ Lightning Assistant GM Claude Loiselle said. â€œI am particularly looking forward to working with Steffon Walby, Head Coach and General Manager of the Sea Wolves, as we continue to develop exciting, young hockey players for the Tampa Bay Lightning. We feel that the Gulf Coast area, with its history of great fans, will provide the ideal environment for our prospects. We are especially excited to be there as the Sea Wolves make their long-awaited return to the ice.â€
The Sea Wolves entered the ECHL in 1996 and have played 10 seasons in Biloxi. They will return to the ice this season after missing the previous two seasons due to damage inflicted on the Mississippi Coast Coliseum by Hurricane Katrina which included the loss of two Zambonis, ice making equipment, dasherboards, team offices and all hockey equipment. Mississippi won the Kelly Cup as champions of the ECHL in 1999. They will open their season on October 19 at the Florida Everblades in Estero.
The Sea Wolves anticipate that they could receive as many as six players as a result of the agreement.