When the AHL made the announcement that five teams would be moving to California, Brandon Kisker was also celebrating his birthday. However, whatever party plans Kisker, the Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Stockton Heat; would have to wait.
“I was thinking about going out with a couple people after work for a drink, but I was up all night putting out releases and gathering information about this move,” mention Kisker in a phone interview. “It wasn’t much of a surprise, though. When I came here in 2013, there were rumblings of the AHL moving out to the west coast and the writing seemed to be on the wall for us. It was just a matter of who was going to step up and buy the team.”
That suitor turned out to be the Calgary Flames. The Flames, who previously had their AHL affiliate in Glens Falls, New York; have had their fair share of moves when it comes to their AHL affiliates. With the move to Stockton, the Flames will be on their seventh different affiliation in the AHL since the 2002-03 season. In spite of that off that, the Flames are looking to make it work in Calgary, which they are proving with what they are doing when it comes to Stockton Arena.
“With the amount of work and funding that they are putting into renovating the arena shows that the Flames are committed to the team in the long run,” mentioned Kisker. “Where the offices for the staff is right now, it will be turned into a coaches room and exercise room, while the offices are moving upstairs in the arena. Some of the people coming up from Calgary have said that the exercise room is bigger than what they have at the Saddledome.”
As the California adventure seems to be for the long haul, the commitment is something that will go along way for a non-traditional community. Even with all the fanfare, however, Kisker mentioned that many casual fans still thought the Thunder were coming back next season and didn’t know about the Heat or the AHL were being brought into the Stockton Arena for the 2015-16 season.
However, those who were invested in the Thunder we very sadden and to an extent upset that the Thunder name was not retained like their counterparts in Ontario and Bakersfield were able to do. The familiar names like Garet Hunt and Ryan Constant won’t be around this season and it’s not even a guarantee they will be called-up to from to the AHL from the ECHL, should they make the team in Adirondack. Despite the loss of the name and some fan favorites, that sadness turned into anticipation with what could come with the new league. Many are waiting to see what the different in the game will be, mainly in the talent level from the players who are a step away from the NHL rather than two steps in the ECHL.
Even with the die-hards being around and understanding the situation, the AHL is more than just a step-up in leagues. There are plenty of intricacies to the AHL to be had, like the age limit, emergency call-ups, and veteran exemption status. In order to break it down for the fans, Kisker has taken to his Broadcast Blog on the Stockton Heat website to give fans a little bit of a glossary and history lesson about these rules and about where the Flames have been prior to landing in Stockton.
With all the anticipation for the new league, it has translated into solid ticket sales. According to Kisker, the Heat are trending 13% higher in season ticket sales in comparison to last season. Corporate sales have also been up, as the local business have been interesting in seeing what the new league could do for the community.
In order to help those businesses understand the layout, Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and Assistant General Manager Brad Pascall, who will serve as the general manager and liaison between Calgary and Stockton, met with local business owners and city council members in May. In this meeting, Burke and Pascall laid out not only the reason why they chose Stockton, but also the kind of play on the ice that people are going to expect from the team in comparison to the ECHL, which is a faster, more polished product than what they are used to seeing. Pascall mentioned that the coaching staff in Stockton will be using a lot of schemes that are instituted by Calgary head coach Bob Hartley.
It seems to have helped out a bit, as the Heat are getting more interest after the meeting with Burke, combined with Heat President Dave Piecuch going around the community even more to answer any questions the new businesses may have beyond that meeting. That said, the loyalty from current sponsors still stand, which Kisker gives credit to Debra Bachle, the Vice President of Corporate Sales and one of the employees who have been with the Stockton hockey family since the first day of the Thunder.
Aside from the business of hockey, the move to Stockton should be able to help the players out as well. The renovation made to the arena will greatly help the players in their conditioning, to which Kisker stated, “When you reward a player with great facilities; it shows in their on-ice performance.” In addition to that, should the players want to get away from the rink during the down times, Stockton is less than 90 minutes away from San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. This will help many of the players who have young families and may want to get out of Stockton for a bit and enjoy the bigger cities in Northern California.
With the home opener October 10th, each day brings about more excitement for the new team and league to hit the Stockton Arena ice. While the roster has yet to be formed, fans and the staff of the Heat are ready to take on a new adventure in the hockey world. The relationship between the Flames and Stockton seems to be a solid one, Kisker has had a soft spot in his heart for Calgary for quite some time.
“When I was an intern for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flames game into town and I was able to interview Jarome Iginla, who is one of my favorite players,” Kisker recollects. “I was so amped about the interview, but when I went back to review the tape; someone had their Blackberry not set to airplane mode and there was interference in my recording because of that. One of the Flames camera guys saw I was bummed and asked why and I explained it to him. Later on, he came up to me and gave me a tape with my interview from his camera. It’s not something he needed to do, but did it out of the kindness of his heart. It’s going that extra mile for someone when you didn’t have to that earns respect. Even before then the staff and players were some of the nicest I’ve interacted with when I was with Tampa and recently with Stockton.”
We can only hope that the Flames can continue to win people over in Stockton, which seems to be happening as each day goes forward with the Stockton Heat in place.