In January 2015, it was announced that the Adirondack Flames would move to Stockton, California, while the Stockton Thunder would be relocated to Glens Falls, New York. For the people of Glens Falls, it would the third team in as many years and this time, it would come with a switch to a league that was lower in tier. Understandably, there were some people who were concerned with what this move to the ECHL would mean for the product on the ice.
“If you were ask our fans, it could be considered a fear of the unknown,” said Adirondack Thunder president Brian Petrovek in a phone interview with TheSinBin.net this week. “People were jumping to a comparison to the old United Hockey League teams in the past. With all due respect to those who played in that league, but the ECHL is definitely a better league with better players and better skill.”
While the move of the AHL franchise to the West Coast may have come as a surprise to some, at least as far as timing goes, Petrovek knew that this was an idea that has been bandied about for some time. Petrovek was the owner of the Portland Pirates from 2000 until 2014 ,when he took the job as president of the AHL Adirondack team. Yet, Petrovek says that the Flames have been very open and honest with the franchise and are dedicated to this team, regardless of the league they are in.
“During the introductory press conference in 2014, (Flames GM) Brad Treliving was very open with everyone about the possibility of the AHL moving out west,” said Petrovek, “But I think it came sooner than anyone had anticipated. However, the Flames have been top notch with our area. Their attention to detail, competitiveness, and diligence has been second to none. Despite our move to the ECHL, their dedication and interest to this team and the area has not changed one bit.”
Petrovek should know. Prior to owning the Pirates, Petrovek was the vice-president of marketing for the New Jersey Devils from 1989 until 1993, before moving on to be the executive director of USA Hockey from 1993 until 1998. The Flames saw this as a big asset when looking at Petrovek to run the team in Glens Falls.
“It has helped a lot and allows me to get back to basics with being a data driven company,” says Petrovek. “Calgary knew I was able to bring a lot to the table in what is going to work for this area and not let emotions or perceptions of what could work take over. You have to stick with what you know is going to work, even through a change like this.”
At least in the early going, the success has been there with the Thunder. They are 20-8-1-1 through 30 games and are ranked second in fewest goals-against, thanks to the tandem of Ken Appleby and Drew Fielding (along with Scott Wedgewood and Kent Simpson). On top of that, the offensive created by the likes of Michael Kirkpatrick, Mitchell Heard, and Rob Bordson has helped the Thunder reach second in the East Division and are tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference. That has help create some buzz in the area for this team.
“The quality of play has done a good job of getting some people off the fence as far as this team goes,” mentioned Petrovek. “As you know, the first part of the season is always rough with different things going on, plus the apprehension with some people, but that’s human nature. But once word got out about the skill and hard work of this team, it helped resonate with an area that has hoisted four Calder Cups and helped ease people’s mind about this league.”
But in the ECHL, there’s also the question of where players will come from when the cream of the crop gets called up to the AHL. With players like Heard and Ryan Lomberg being on the shuttle to and from Stockton, Greg Wolfe going to and from Albany, as well as Bordson going throughout the AHL this season (Providence, Iowa); the Thunder have been able to not miss a beat with their roster thanks to the scouting of head coach Cail MacLean and the Calgary Flames scouting department.
“For us, it depends on the situation and the players we need,” mentions Petrovek. “The Flames and Brad Pascall have really helped and have been able to make the moves they have with their deep pool of prospects. Cail has a deep knowledge of many players in every league, but we really have no barriers in terms of where the players come from when needed. For instance, we were able to sign someone from Europe (Peter MacArthur) who will bring some experience and depth to our team.”
Another notch on the belt for this area was being awarded the All-Star Classic for 2017, which is only the second time in the 34-year history of minor league hockey in Glens Falls that there will be an All-Star event held in the area (the first being the 2005 UHL All-Star Game). Petrovek helped gain All-Star Classics for the Portland Pirates in 2003 and 2010, which he says are two of the best experiences of his career. He believes that the 2017 All-Star Classic will be no different for Adirondack.
“It’s huge for our region,” exclaimed Petrovek. “We are going to give back to the fan base and create a lot of memories for those in attendance. We’ll also be able to host people from around the league and show them what the Adirondacks have to offer. This is a market that deserves an All-Star Classic and we’re glad we have more than a year to plan this event for the league.”
With the play of the team, the history of leadership of Petrovek, and the support of the Flames, the Glens Falls fan base should be able to rest easy. While it is a shock to drop down a level in minor league hockey, the talent of the ECHL is much better and many NHL are utilizing their “Double A” teams for their prospects. Despite lower levels leaving a bad impression the first go-round, Petrovek and the Thunder are out to ease the mind of those still on the fence while on the mission to bring back a winning and competitive team to the Adirondacks.