Rampage, Panthers ink affiliation deal

The San Antonio Rampage announced today that they have has signed an affiliation agreement with the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League (NHL). The announcement was made jointly by Spurs Sports & Entertainment president Rick Pych and Florida executive vice president and general manager Dale Tallon.

“With the upcoming 2011-2012 season marking the Rampage’s 10-year anniversary, we are proud to announce that we will once again partner with the Florida Panthers organization,” said Pych. “A lot has changed since our inaugural season with the Panthers back in 2002-2003. Dale Tallon enters his second season as general manager of the Panthers and is in the midst of developing and retaining the same type of great young hockey players at the AHL level for the Florida program that he did when he was GM with the Chicago Blackhawks as architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion team.”

Florida will provide San Antonio with players, coaches and hockey operations staff. The Panthers and SS&E co-owned the San Antonio Rampage from 2002 to 2005, before SS&E bought Florida’s portion of the Rampage franchise on June 29, 2005. Since 2005, the Rampage has served as the top affiliate for the Phoenix Coyotes and the Panthers have had an affiliation agreement with the Rochester Americans.

“With Dale in Florida, together with Mike Santos as general manager of the Rampage and who has a long history of providing playoff caliber teams as an AHL GM, we are really excited about the prospects for the upcoming season since we know Dale and Mike share the same dedication and competitive determination that falls in line with all Spurs Sports & Entertainment franchises,” said Pych.

Prior to joining the Panthers organization on May 17, 2010, Tallon had served as a hockey operations executive and color analyst in the NHL for 20 years with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was responsible for drafting or acquiring many of the Blackhawks’ top players who won the 2010 Stanley Cup as well as a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2009. He is a two-time NHL All-Star (1971 and 1972) and competed in 642 NHL games as a defenseman with Vancouver (1970-73), Chicago (1973-78) and Pittsburgh (1978-80) registering 336 points (98-238-336) and 568 PIM. Tallon was selected by Vancouver in the first round (2nd overall) in the 1970 NHL Entry Draft.

“We are extremely pleased to announce that our prospects will be playing and developing in San Antonio next year,” said Tallon. “Led by Chairman/CEO Peter M. Holt and President Rick Pych, Spurs Sports & Entertainment is a first class organization that will provide our prospects with an exceptional environment for growth and development. The Rampage roster will be compromised of our prospects, as well as experienced AHL players that will compete hard and play an exciting style of hockey for the fans of San Antonio.”

Michael Santos, the Panthers’ assistant general manager, will direct hockey operations for the Rampage franchise. Santos joined the Panthers organization on July 1, 2010 serving as the club’s assistant general manager and had previously worked in the hockey operations department with the Panthers from 2001-03. Prior to re-joining Florida, Santos worked as the director of hockey operations for the Nashville Predators from 2006-10 and served as commissioner and president of the North American Hockey League from 2003-06. Santos has also spent time working in the NHL’s New York office, as well as for the New Haven Nighthawks (AHL) and the New York Islanders.

Chuck Weber, 38, will serve as the head coach of the Rampage, making him the seventh head coach in franchise history. The Lockport, NY native, served as the bench boss of the Rochester Americans during the 2010-11 season. Prior to coaching in Rochester, Weber served as the Vice President of Hockey Operations & Head Coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL) for four seasons. He led his club to the ECHL Conference Finals in three of his four years at the helm, capturing the ECHL Kelly Cup title in 2008 and 2010.

Some of the Panthers’ top prospects include goaltender Jacob Markstrom, right wing Michal Repik and left wing Garrett Wilson. Markstrom, Florida’s second round (31st overall) pick in 2008, played in one game with the Panthers last season and 37 games with Rochester in 2010-11, posting a 16-20-1 record with a .907 save percentage. Repik, Florida’s second round (40th overall) pick in 2007, has played in 188 career AHL games with Rochester totaling 52 goals and 95 assists. The Vlasim, Czech Republic native has skated in 55 career NHL games with the Panthers collecting 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists). Wilson was selected by Florida in the fourth round (107th overall) in 2009 and has spent the past three seasons with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) posting 93 goals and 89 assists in 184 games with the Attack.

Florida’s history of developing players in the AHL has produced numerous NHL stars, most notably the Panthers’ longest tenured player and former Rampage center Stephen Weiss. He has played in 557 career games with Florida collecting 333 points (124 goals, 209 assists) in a span of nine seasons. Weiss competed in 72 games with the Rampage during portions of the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, totaling 21 goals and 26 assists. He was Florida’s first choice (1st round, 4th overall) in 2001.