AHL’s western move bad news for some, worse news for others

Folks those that read my Sportsmanship wins every time posting or follow the American Hockey League know that there are several AHL teams relocating to the west coast at the end of the current season. Depending on when I get around to mashing the “publish” button for this post the press conference to officially announce the moves, scheduled for 3:30pm EST, will be close to starting or will be underway. Either way the point is moot, by the end of business today five AHL markets will lose teams and five California cities will gain them for the 2015-16 season.

The AHL teams moving and where they are going and the ECHL teams they’ll replace, for those that might not know, are:
*Worcester Sharks (SJ) to San Jose to temporarily play at the SAP Center
*Manchester Monarchs (LAK) to Ontario, CA (Ontario Reign)
*Adirondack Flames (CAL) to Stockton, CA (Stockton Thunder)
*Oklahoma City Barons (EDM) to Bakersfield, CA (Bakersfield Condors)
*Norfolk Admirals (ANA) to San Diego

When all the chips fall and displaced ECHL franchises likely taking up locations vacated by their AHL counterparts (excepting Bakersfield, who will move to Norfolk instead of Oklahoma City) that will leave two current AHL cities without a dance partner: OKC and Worcester. Oklahoma City has a great track record in the lower levels of pro hockey, with the Blazers being a very successful franchise in the old Central Hockey League. The CHL recently merged with the ECHL, so one would expect there to be a lot of interest in a team going to OKC. So that leaves Worcester.

Based on my experiences from the last time Worcester lost its AHL team in 2005 I’m not convinced the city leaders here have done their due diligence in the area of replacing the Worcester Sharks for next season. When the St Louis Blues sold the Worcester IceCats to Bruce Saurs and Anne Griffith in Peoria folks around these parts were caught unprepared. In this case the news of San Jose moving their AHL franchise has been known for quite some time, and with the Sharks exercising an out in their lease before this season started a contingency plan should have been put into place knowing it was likely going to be the last season for the team. Despite comments from the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to the contrary I think they’re still playing catch-up. I hope I’m wrong.

An AHL team is likely out of the question, but an ECHL team could easily be lured to the DCU Center just based on the size of the city. I’m really hoping that the people that can make it happen do make the effort to get it done. Not because I’m looking forward to watching AA level hockey, because I want the hard working folks I’ve become friends with to have a chance to keep their jobs.

Despite virtually no help from the hockey operations folks in San Jose regarding putting a winning team on the ice the business operations people here in Worcester have done a pretty good job selling this team to the community. Their hard work to sell a perennial losing team to individual fans and groups alike shows that a winning team here at either the AHL or ECHL level could be significantly more successful financially. If it’s the ECHL local ownership would have a much easier time selling the idea of a team to potential business sponsors because a local owner would be answerable for all aspects of the business as opposed to guys 3,000 miles away making the important decisions about the product on the ice.

When the IceCats left current Worcester Sharks Booster Club president Rich Lundin and I, neither of whom were then members of the IceCats Booster Club, essentially added another full time job to our workdays by keeping the fires lit under the people that needed to be continually reminded how important professional sports are to the image of a city like Worcester, and by tracking down every lead possible in trying to attract another team to the DCU Center. This time it’s a bit different as city leaders already know what needs to be done, and they need to make sure those with the ability to attract another team here get the job done. Without a team playing all those night at the DCU Center lots of people, and not just those that work in the building itself, will be looking for jobs.

And that’s worse news than us just not being able to see a hockey game.

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