SPRINGFIELD, MA– The American Hockey League has seen its growth over the years including expansion on the West Coast. The Sin Bin was able to sit down and talk with the President/CEO of the AHL Dave Andrews.
When the Springfield Falcons headed out of town and relocated to Tuscon, AZ, people wondered if professional hockey would return to the city of Springfield and the Thunderbirds made their start last season. Andrews and the league are thrilled to see hockey back in the city of Springfield.
” It was a difficult time when it looked as though there might be AHL hockey in Springfield. Our head offices are here. We’ve been here well it will be almost 50 years as the headquarter city of the American Hockey League,” said Andrews.
Andrews thought not having a team here in the Springfield market was a downtime for the area and the league.
” It was, fortunately, a very brief downtime. We were really pleased to work with Paul Picknelly and his group and bring a franchise to Springfield. We had Nathan Costa step in and take over as executive vice president of the team and now the president who also worked with us was also a big plus. We’re thrilled to see how its gone here. I think its a real testament to the ownership group and to Nathan and his staff. They have done a terrific job.”
The West Coast expansion in the AHL has been a positive step for them in the league. Andrews said it was a difficult process to get to with the Pacific Division in the American Hockey League as moving five franchises was not a simple process. It was in the plan for three years between the league and the National Hockey League teams involved.
” Its been excellent for the NHL west coast teams to have their players closer both from a call-up point of view and also being able to monitor players on a daily basis is really important to every team in the National Hockey League and for the west coast teams to have their players that far away was very challenging.”
Andrews said the fan support with the AHL on the West coast has been terrific.
” San Diego has been outstanding. Ontario, CA is a really good. Bakersfield as well and San Jose and Stockton they are holding their own as well and with the addition of Tuscon, last season and next year Colorado will have a seven-team Pacific Division with all of those teams based out west. All of them close to their NHL affiliate.”
Canada has seen its growth with the AHL this season with the Laval Rocket and the Belleville Senators coming into the league as the Rocket relocated from St. John’s Newfoundland and Belleville relocated from Binghamton, NY.
” They’ve had a great start both in Laval and Belleville. I was fortunate enough to be at both their home openers. Both of their home openers sold out. Their arenas are terrific. The new arena in Laval is spectacular and what they have been able to do with the arena in Belleville is also amazing. It’s a great place to watch a game.”
The ECHL has seen growth here in New England as the Manchester Monarchs have been playing in their third season. The Worcester Railers started play this year and the Maine Mariners will be coming into the league for the 2018-19 year. It doesn’t worry Andrews or the league about the ECHL coming in here, in fact, they are happy that the ECHL have been able to go in some of the markets that could not sustain an AHL franchise.
” Portland has got a great hockey fan base. I am happy to see a team back and Worcester and if the ECHL moves into Albany and behind us at some point. I’d be happy to see that too. You don’t like to see fans in any community that have been loyal to the American league lose a hockey team. A lot of the movement we’ve had is been very difficult for a lot of fan bases. I wish them all well. I think the more hockey the better. They don’t really compete with us.”
Andrews believes now there a fewer minor league hockey teams now than back in 2000. The AHL merged with the IHL (International Hockey League) and forming the league into a 30 league team to match with the NHL. That was one of the biggest milestones for the league.
” That was a major step for minor pro hockey and it was the right thing for our league and obviously very good for the NHL too,” Andrews said.