Prepping for the new season, ECHL boss Brian McKenna celebrates his 12th year running the transcontinental circuit.
With teams as widespread in venues from Alaska to Florida, The E has delivered cost-friendly pro hockey on a high level.
In Part One of a two-part interview with our Kirsten Ambrosio, McKenna addressed the following issues:
* ECHL ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
I’m extremely proud of the number of ECHL personnel WHO continue to move up through the professional hockey pipeline.
That includes players, coaches, on-ice officials, as well as front office staff.
* BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE NEW SEASON:
Continuing to make sure we grow our audience and fan base and not only provide a great on-ice product – hockey product – but also make sure that we continue to entertain that fan base and expose our game to new fans. We have to keep the product fresh and entertaining.
* HOW TO BALANCE CANADIAN, AMERICAN AND FOREIGN TALENT
The number of Americans playing in our league has continued to grow over the years – its now more than 50% - which is certainly a change from 5 to 10 years ago.
Most of that talent comes through Division I college programs in the US.
Interestingly, the number of European players has decreased over the past decade.
With the growth of professional leagues in Europe – particularly the KHL – a lot of the good young talent now, if they are not going to the NHL, is opting to stay at home rather than come to North America.
So the percentage of European players has gone down – we were at no more than three percent players from Europe last season.
* MOST SUCCESSFUL FRANCHISES AND WHY:
We have a number of teams doing very well that continue to put up strong numbers in terms of attendance as well as remain very competitive on the ice.
It was certainly a strong year in Fort Wayne, which led our league in attendance with about 7,500 fans per game. It continues to be a great minor league hockey market.
Ontario (California) last season had a very successful year with attendance in their fifth year of operation.
Also, Toledo had all-time high record attendance.
Colorado continued its sell-out streak, which is now up to about 380 games. We have a very successful operation there.
* SHORT AND LONG TERM OBJECTIVES FOR THE ECHL
In the short term, our front office staffs across the league continue to work hard on a day-to-day basis to be relevant in their markets, provide great entertainment, and expose our game to new fans; particularly in a lot of untraditional markets.
In the long term, we want to provide great entertainment for fans as well as provide a very competitive environment for our players to develop in.
We also want to continue to build our ties with the AHL and NHL, and be a very relevant part of that whole development chain in terms of professional hockey.