The Casper Ice Arena will be home to a new junior hockey franchise later this year.

The Casper Coyotes will be among three expansion teams starting play in the Western States Hockey League in late 2014.

Coyotes co-owner Chad Parrish says the WSHL acts as a feeder league for college and upper-level amateur junior organizations.

“We look at ourselves as a development model for the kids to move up into D-I or D-III hockey, and to be able to move up the ladder among tiered junior hockey (organizations) in the (United) States,” Parrish said.

Parrish also says Casper hockey fans can expect high-caliber play in the WSHL.

“One thing about the WSHL, they’ve allowed a few more foreign imports to come in, so the level of hockey over the last five or six years has really increased,” Parrish said. According to the Coyotes' Facebook page, the team has already received commitments from players in Colorado, Utah and California and Ukraine.

Parrish also says expansion into the Casper market made sense to the team’s ownership group and to league officials.

“The logistics of where Casper sits among some of the other markets, it really kind of played into what made sense for us as far as team travel,” Parrish said. “Also, talking with the rink management, they were very pleasant to deal with and very accommodating.”

According to the WSHL’s website, the league currently consists of 24 teams in four divisions, including the Cheyenne Stampede in the Mountain Division and several other teams in Colorado, Utah and Montana.

Parrish says the Coyotes have already hired a head coach. He also says a nationwide search for amateur players will begin later this year.

The Coyotes have also scheduled a tryout camp at the Casper Ice Arena in May.

The city of Casper is also attempting to lure a minor league hockey organization into the city that would become primary tenants at the Casper Events Center.