PRINCETON, NJ — In a press release on February 7th, 2017, ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna announced his intention to leave the league after serving the past 16 seasons as its chief officer. McKenna assumed the job in 2002 after the departure of Richard W. Adams. The league has announced a national recruiting search to find McKenna’s replacement.
McKenna originally came to the ECHL during the 1999-2000 season by way of the now-defunct Trenton Titans, serving as President and General Manager. Under McKenna, the Titans won a regular season championship in 2000-01 and McKenna was named ECHL Executive of the Year after the Titans’ inaugural season.
During McKenna’s tenure as ECHL Commissioner, he oversaw the end of the league’s expansion in the southern United States and the consolidation of franchises as the league began to gaze toward the west. In advance, the league formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League formally changed to ECHL in 2002. Finally, the league’s western expansion took place in 2003 with the merging with the seven teams from the former West Coast Hockey League. At the time, the ECHL was the largest professional hockey league with 31 teams across the United States.
In hindsight, the west coast expansion would ultimately prove to be one of McKenna’s failures as commissioner. Three of the seven WCHL expansion teams would not make it past five ECHL seasons, victims to the ever-increasing cost of travel. Only the Idaho Steelheads, now the ECHL’s westernmost team, would survive intact.
Ten years into McKenna’s tenure, he would guide the league into its next wave of expansion. With most of the teams from the southern wave of expansion phase during the 1990’s now either folded or now part of the Single-A Southern Professional Hockey League, McKenna began to slowly consolidate its remaining competetition in AA-level hockey, the Central Hockey League. Over a three-year period beginning with the additions of the defending Kelly Cup champion Colorado Eagles and culminating with the CHL merger, the ECHL once again began to shift its footprint eastward.
After the chaos of the 90’s southern expansion and the west coast expansion of the previous decade, the CHL merger created some stability in what is normally the chaotic world of minor pro hockey. In the four years since the ECHL absorbed the Central league, none of the CHL teams have folded, and its former teams have won every Kelly Cup championship since the merger – the Allen Americans in 14-15 & 15-16 and the Colorado Eagles last season.
“It has been a rewarding experience, and I thank the ECHL Board of Governors for their support and guidance over the years,” McKenna said. “In particular, I would like to thank the three Chairmen I have worked with during my tenure, Craig Brush, Steve Chapman and Ray Harris. I have also been fortunate to be surrounded by great people in the League Office over the years. I will miss them all. That said, the timing is right to pass the torch to someone who will lead the League to the next level. My top priority over the next six months will be to assist in that transition.”
The next Commissioner of the ECHL will have his own set of challenges to deal with. Operating costs will continue to rise, while owners are under considerable pressure to keep ticket prices affordable across price points. With the NHL moving towards a possible expansion to 32 teams, the ECHL will also be under pressure to find AA-level affiliates and possibly set off a new wave of southern expansion to implement a 32-32-32 minor league model where each NHL teams has both AHL and ECHL farm clubs.
“Our entire League owes a great deal to Brian McKenna,” said Chairman of the ECHL Board of Governors, Ray Harris. “No one has done more or worked harder for the ECHL than he has over the last 16 years. He has been critical to the expansion and success our League has experienced, and we will all miss his leadership. It has been a true privilege to work with him.”