McKenna’s Departure Leaves Wide-Open Field for ECHL…and Maybe Me Taking Over

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On Wednesday, the ECHL announced that commissioner Brian McKenna was stepping down from his post following the 2017-18 season. McKenna has been in that spot for 16 years and has seen the growth of the ECHL from a league where it was very few prospects and many guys on their last legs to a legit developmental league where many NHL teams place their young guns when the AHL is too full or they feel the player would be better served in a league that helps adjust to the pro game.

McKenna has seen some ups and downs, sure, but it’s been a very net gain for what McKenna has grown. The league absorbed the WCHL and CHL in his tenure, while also seeing steady growth amongst stable membership and making head-way from the West Coast to the Northeast corridor in the last couple seasons after the AHL went to their West Coast footprint. His ability to help the league geographically has been a solid work, too. Kudos for what he has done.

There has been no replacement as of yet, but I’m going to suggest one person who I think would be great for this job.

Scotty Wazz.

That’s right, I’m officially throwing my hat in the ring for the ECHL Board of Governors to look at when it comes to hiring their new commissioner. I know that I may not have the qualifications a normal applicant would have, but my knowledge of hockey and the business of minor league hockey could be something that should be looked at. Add that to actually seeing the fan reaction and taking those into account when talking and posting about what the league could/should/would do in different situations.

Now, let’s be honest, I’m not even in the running. The idea of a blogger/podcaster to be in such a high position is more a publicity gimmick and for a league as legitimate as the ECHL wouldn’t stoop to something so silly. Yet…there’s always a chance until there isn’t one.

I dealt first with the ECHL when the Chesapeake Icebreakers were a thing in the late 1990s, being the stickboy and around the team for a while– I saw the passion these guys had for the league and saw a lot of people outside of the players doing as much as they can in order to get to that next level. Hell, Dana Heinze is a guy I remember unloading the Johnstown Chiefs’ bus and now he’s got a couple Stanley Cup rings in Tampa and Pittsburgh.

While the business on the ice is at its top point, there’s still room to figure out what’s going to happen off the ice is still there and how to make all the teams successful. Not just the team they ice, but what they actually have in terms of other entertainment to help the fans during the stoppages in play. When I spoke with Brampton Beast President and General Manager Cary Kaplan, he said that the team didn’t market hockey, they marketed entertainment. I’d suggest going to all the member teams rinks, holding a “town hall” of sort for the boosters, fans, season ticket members– whomever– and see what’s working and what’s not working off the ice. From the in-arena promotions to what’s happening (or not happening) outside of the arena and into the cities. Adjust and adapting marketing projects could be integral to a team surviving and folding.

The ECHL is grass-roots hockey with a little bit of corporate flare. While you need the corporate side of things to keep the lights on, you also need the community support. In fact, the community support could be the biggest thing needed because sure– a team could have top of the line facilities, but if they don’t have a solid base for a support staff around them…they aren’t going to make it anywhere.

Granted, there’s some other ideas I have, but I haven’t really planned it all out. It’s a work in progress as we push towards Scotty Wazz as commissioner for the ECHL after the 2017-18 season.

….and if not commissioner, some kind of fan relations liaison to present to the Board every now and again to see what is working and what isn’t.

REPORT: ECHL Tabs St. John’s as Latest Market

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According to David Salter, the former Director of Communications for the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, there’s going to be an ECHL team coming to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in the near future. Salter said that a source from outside the area was the one who told him that it will be happening. Salter also stated that the franchise will be affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, while trying to use the IceCaps name.

Of course, this brings up a host of other questions. With the Canadiens going to this new St. John’s team, who would the Brampton Beast turn to in order to be an affiliate?? There are two options– one of which being the Toronto Maple Leafs– who have the Marlies feet away from their doorstep, why not have their ECHL team there rather than in Orlando?? Of course, Orlando runs a nice little ship there and the Leafs may like that a little better. The other option is the Ottawa Senators, who moved their AHL team to Belleville, which is two hours west of Brampton. Currently, the Senators are without an ECHL affiliate and it would make sense to keep the teams in Ontario if you’re going to go that route.

Another question is what to do with travel. Even with the Northeast expansion, St. John’s would be 1,200 miles away from their nearest rival in Portland, which is something I wrote about a month ago when this idea first started to get legs. According to Salter, Dean MacDonald is in fact the man who will own the team, so you can bet that he or his group will have to find a way to off-set costs for teams to travel there. It would most likey follow the Alaska Aces method of having three-game weekend sets up there and then they tour around the Northeast and what-have-you.

While nothing has been set in stone, the fact that sources outside of the local area are reporting it should give it plenty of legs to make it happen. The domino effect could be something that could become very interesting down the line, especially for teams who are already involved with ECHL franchises and the possibility for flipping affiliations.

Minor League (Not) Monday: Sommer at the Summit, ECHL North Heating Up, SPHLers Moving on Up

AHL

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-A big congratulation to Roy Sommer of the San Jose Barracuda for getting his 700th AHL career win this past weekend. Sommer has been a soldier for the San Jose Sharks organization since he came in as an assistant coach in 1996-97. He has coached San Jose’s AHL affiliate since 1998 from Kentucky to Cleveland to Worcester and now San Jose. For a guy who has never coached in the NHL, he should be considered for the Hockey Hall of Fame when he’s done, not only for the wins record in the AHL, but for being 3rd all-time for most games coached in the professional ranks, currently at 1,833– behind only Barry Trotz and Scotty Bowman.

-The hottest team in the Eastern Conference is the Syracuse Crunch. With a six-game winning streak, the Crunch have been able to get back into the North Division playoff picture. Though Cory Conacher is up with the Lightning, Michael Bournival and Matthew Peca have been able to pick up the slack. A balanced attack on offense has been able to help, as well, with 13 players potting at least three goals on the season.

ECHL

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-The North Division could be one of the races to look at as the season goes along. All the teams are sitting at .500 or better to start the season, with only five points separating the fifth spot from the top spot. While the Manchester Monarchs are trying to get some distance with their four-game winning streak, Wheeling is right behind them with three of the top-ten in scoring on their roster (Cody Wydo, Reid Gardner, and Garrett Meurs). Reading, Adirondack, and Brampton are still contenders and who knows what Worcester could be doing as they keep going along.

-Though they are following Toledo in the standings, Cincinnati has a strong scoring presence, with both Shawn O’Donnell (10pts in seven games) and Justin Danforth (9pts in six games) with two of the longest point-scoring streaks in the league. With Eric Knodel helping out on the power play and Anthony Peters holding down the fort in net– the Cyclones are in a prime spot to battle Toledo for top-spot in the Central.

SPHL

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-One of the biggest stories is how the downfall of the affiliation in Norfolk of the ECHL plucked a lot of players from the SPHL. Max Cook (Fayetteville), Nick Miglio (Peoria), and John Rey (Birmingham). As the season goes on, depending on the fate of the Admirals, more names could be going that way. While it’s good for those players and the league to be a developmental asset, the teams may feel the crunch, especially if it’s late in the season and they lose a top guy when they need them the most.

Minor League Monday: Jankowski Potting Points, Beast Licking Wounds, Mayhem Being Settled

While this blog encompasses the hockey landscape, there needs to one day that is dedicated to the lower levels of hockey on this blog when there isn’t a big story that going around the hockey blogosphere. And if just one day is not enough, you can head over to my friends at TheSinBin.net for your fix on almost every team in minor league hockey.

AHL

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-After being one of the last cuts of the Calgary Flames, Mark Jankowski is making every minute count while with the Stockton Heat. In his first six games, Jankowski has five goals and eight points, putting him tied in goals with another Flames cut, Garnet Hathaway and two points behind Andrew Mangiapane for total points.

-The Vegas Golden Knights goaltending situation is in peril, if you hadn’t heard. It’s in so much disarray that they have taken both of their AHL prospects out of Chicago, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, which leaves CJ Motte as their only rostered goalie for now. Luckily, the Wolves don’t play until Wednesday morning, so they have time to go ahead and get a back-up for Motte. Just goes to show you can never have enough goaltending depth.

ECHL

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-This is definitely not the start of the season the Brampton Beast wanted after their record-setting season last year. After getting into their first playoffs in the ECHL era of the team, the Beast are out to an 0-4-1 start. While Brandon Marino is putting up the goals (4g, 2a), the secondary scoring is still in need of a boost. There’s also a need to get more of their defense to help out rookie goalies Marcus Hogberg and Michael McNiven, as the team has given up a league high 24 goals.

-With the additions of always dangerous Mitchell Heard and Michael Kirkpatrick, the Florida Everblades are off to a blazing start. The team is a plus-9 in the goal-differential to the young season (only behind the Allen Americans) and a lot can be attributed to Heard and Kirkpatrick making a big impact, as well as rookies Steven Lorentz and Nelson Armstrong jumping in feet first for the ‘Blades.

SPHL

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-It has been a rough start to the season for the defending champion Macon Mayhem. With this past weekend yielding only one goal for the team while giving up nine in two games, it’s been the typical hangover we see from some champions time and again. The roster does have some of the returning players from that championship team, so it’s not like they aren’t used to pressure. While they can have a bit of hiccup, the short season in the SPHL makes it so they have to get back in the win column quickly before it gets too out of hand.

-Sean Bonar is building off his strong season last year with Fayetteville, but this time with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. A shutout in his first game with Pensacola was a great way to make a good first impression with his team, but the fact he’s getting goal support is even better for the SPHL’s reigning MVP and top goaltender going into a new season. It wasn’t easy, as Bonar faced 36 shots against the reigning champs in Macon, but once the defense tightens up, the Ice Flyers will surely be one of the teams to beat this SPHL season.