Over the past few seasons, the NHL has expanded from 30 teams to 32 teams with the additions of the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken. With an expanded NHL means minor hockey leagues need a few more teams as well. The AHL recently added the Coachella Valley Firebirds, AHL affiliate of the Kraken, and the ECHL added the Savannah Ghost Pirates.
Looks like the ECHL isn’t done just yet. On Monday the league announced it had granted an expansion franchise to the Lake Tahoe region. The region is in between the state borders of Utah and Nevada, although their arena will be on the Nevada side. Looks like the silver state has yet another team to root for as hockey fandom continues to grow. In addition to the aforementioned recent Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights, the state also has the Henderson Silver Knights of the AHL.
The Lake Tahoe region will be home to the ECHL’s 29th team. Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is apart of the ownership group.
The most interesting thing about the new team might be the new ownership group. Owners include David Hodges of Hodges Management Group, as well as a little know former football player named Tim Tebow. We joke about Tim Tebow, but after his NFL career ended he tried a baseball career which became subject of jokes about him trying different sports. Looks like with his ownership endeavor he can add ice hockey to the list.
In fact, he already has. Tebow already has an ownership stake in ECHL teams the Ghost Pirates and his hometown Jacksonville Icemen through Zawyer Sports & Entertainment. Zawyer also has a hand in the Lake Tahoe team.
Lake Tahoe has a few things in common with Vegas, another town where hockey purists thought the sport would be tough sell. While Lake Tahoe is known for its abundance of outdoor recreation activities such as skiing and boating on its famous lake, it’s also a gambling town on a much smaller scale than Vegas. Lake Tahoe shares the distinction of being a tourism town, just like Vegas. According to the ECHL’s official release, the region attracts over 15 million visitors a year. This also comes two years after the NHL held the “Lake Tahoe Series” in the area during the shortened 2020-2021 season.
ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin spoke about the rivalries the new team would create in the Mountain Division of the league. The Lake Tahoe team might play an important part in balancing the travel schedule of the division, which includes teams in Kansas, Missouri, Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and South Dakota.
The team will begin play in the 2024-2025 season. No name, or team affiliation, has been announced. Lake Tahoe will be the league’s 29th team. The league will also add an expansion franchise in Athens, Georgia for the 2024-2025 season to bring league membership up to 30 teams.