Monday, December 1, 2014

ECHL Comissioner Brian McKenna Talks The Past, The Present & The Future

Mentioned yesterday in the "Did You Know" part of the blog the fact that Allen will play almost half of their schedule this year against just two teams (Tulsa & Wichita) and the hope that would not be the case next year when there is more time to integrate the older ECHL teams schedules with the former CHL teams. Came across the article below, written by Steve Tappa, which revisits some of the information that came out in interviews right after the CHL teams joined the ECHL. The article also has some new information and reinforces what is in store for the future. 

ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna recently visited Quad City and sat down with local reporters for an interview. The visit was McKenna's first in an official capacity, with the Mallards among the seven remaining CHL clubs recently joining the ECHL to create a 28-team, unified Double-A hockey scene stretching from coast-to-coast. Those additions also continued an amazing success story for the 27-year-old ECHL, which numbered only five teams its first season and has faced off with nearly two dozen competing leagues over the years.

Here is part of a question-and-answer session with The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus Mallards beat reporter Steve Tappa where McKenna revisits how the seven CHL teams joined the ECHL and what might happen in the future. After all it will only be a few months and the talk will be about teams coming and going, division realignment, ECHL/AHL expansion plans etc.

Q: Was this market (Quad City) an ECHL consideration before this season?
A: "We had some discussions when QC was a member of the CHL going back 4-5 years, but nothing materialized. A couple of teams left what was the IHL and went to the CHL (with QC) before (Fort Wayne and Evansville) came back our way. Then, things went quiet for four years before heating up again last summer."

Q: What was the reaction when the CHL approached you about joining the ECHL? 
 A: "Off and on, over the years, there had been individual conversations with teams, but never anything from a league perspective. That developed rather quickly over the summer and surprised us as well. We didn't have any sort of master plan where we were going to take over an entire area of the country. It came to us, and our owners looked at it and thought in the long-term it was best for hockey and our league. ... It was not a merger. The folks in the CHL decided to disband their league, voting to do that, and then the individual teams put in an application with the ECHL. A couple of teams (Arizona and Denver) chose not to do that (in late August), but we're happy with the seven that did choose to move forward."

Q: Why is this market (Quad City) important to the ECHL now?
A: "With what's happened with us over the last few years in the Midwest, QC makes a lot more sense to us now than it did five, 10, 15 years ago. We started a team again in Indianapolis, which came in as an expansion team this year. We added Fort Wayne and Evansville a couple of years ago. Toledo relocated from an old arena to a new building and restarted there. So we've had a lot of good things happen in the Midwest over the last few years and QC, from that perspective, is just a natural addition for us and further strengthens us in this part of the country."

Q: What's in it for Mallards fans?
A: "There's going to be some old rivalries rekindled. It's not a fully integrated schedule this year, but come next season, you'll have an opportunity to see the Fort Waynes and Kalamazoos and some of the other teams they've played in the past, as well as the chance to develop new rivals in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. ... Because we couldn't blow up our schedule and start from scratch (with CHL teams accepted into the ECHL just 11 days before the start of the season), we have about as much interlock as we could without taking away important weekend dates from any teams. We thought since the old CHL teams were already scheduled to play (66 times compared to the 72-game ECHL schedule), it made more sense to let them play as (the Central) division with minimal schedule changes."

Q: Will divisions be realigned next summer?
A: "What exactly it will look like, I'm not sure, but if you take a look at a Brampton, and how close they are to places like Elmira and Toledo, it makes sense for them to play more games in those places. Same thing with Rapid City in the west, and their proximity to Colorado, Utah and Idaho. Regardless of what the divisional alignment looks like next season, though, there's going to be a lot more integration of the schedule, and teams will have the opportunity to see new faces in their buildings, which we think is positive."

Q: What other issues does the ECHL face in the foreseeable future?
A: "Change is inevitable. When and how it happens, I'm not sure, but I know some NHL teams want to move their (Triple-A) AHL teams to the west. That may or may not impact one or more of our markets. So I'm sure the next 12-18 months is going to be interesting. But by making this move (and adding the CHL's middle-of-the-country markets), we're better positioned to be able to react, and if certain markets open up because of those moves, we're in all areas of the country now."

Q: Allen and Wichita have been rumored as possible Triple-A markets. Same with Prescott Valley, Ariz., which opted out of the CHL instead of moving to the ECHL. What markets are on your watch list?
A: "It's too early to tell. But, in a lot of media reports to date, mostly through the AHL, they always mention our markets in the west. But there are a number of other markets — like San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, Tacoma, Prescott Valley — that don't have a hockey team now that the AHL I'm sure is actively looking at as well. The question also becomes what AHL teams are transferred out of their existing markets? Some of that could determine where we may go moving forward."

Q: Are you working on any more expansion?
A: "We have two franchises that are dormant now, Las Vegas and Reno, that we want to find a solution to and hopefully restart in the next year. ... In terms of where we are now, at 28 teams, if we can get to 30 and cap it there, and be strong in those markets, I think our board will be quite happy."

Q: Is the ECHL's goal now 30 teams because that lends itself to one-to-one affiliation with the existing 30 NHL and 30 AHL clubs? 
A: "I don't think we'll ever see the same sort of integration as they have in minor-league baseball, but certainly the 30/30/30 model makes sense. I don't see us mandating affiliations, though. If (NHL and AHL) want them, great, but in our league, you still have the ability to operate as an independent, and some teams do so very successfully. But we at least have the opportunity for affiliations."

Reading through these questions and answers with the commissioner should remind Allen fans as well as those around the ECHL that the 2015 "silly season" isn't that far off and should be as exciting as last year.

DID YOU KNOW: Since the ECHL was formed in 1988 with five teams there have been 80 different teams in the league. The league as seen everything from weather teams (Chill, Storm, Ice Caps, Blizzard, Ice Breakers), to animal teams (Lizard Kings, River Frogs, Cottonmouths, Salmon Kings, Wolves, Kingfish, Panthers, Falcons, Tiger Sharks, Lynx, Roadrunners), to the hard to explain (Boardwalk Bullies, Grrowl, Men O' War, Brass, Wildcatters) and last but not least one of the most famous team names in sports, the Macon Whoopee.

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