Worcester ECHL franchise officially starts with Monday press event

Worcester ECHL owner Cliff Rucker, DCU Center General manager Sandy Dunn, and Worcester ECHL President and
General Manager Toby O'Brien pose after the press event announcing the new franchise. (Photo: 210Sports)

With the snow flying outside the DCU Center Monday afternoon ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna announced the 29th league franchise has been awarded to Cliff Rucker, and will begin play in Worcester for the 2017-2018 season. It was news that hockey fans in central Massachusetts have wanted to hear since the San Jose Sharks moved their AHL affiliate out to the West Coast at the end of last season.

There was lots of media at the event covering what was said and interviewing the participants, and they will all have that side of the story. I was more interested in a different aspect of the event. I wanted to get to know a little bit about the people involved, like the way they do things when “working the room” and how they connect with people. You can potentially learn a lot more by watching how someone walks away from a conversation than by just listening to what was exchanged between two people. And within ten minutes I learned something very important about Cliff Rucker…

He genuinely is excited about owning a hockey team.

His excitement showed in every conversation he had, and with every person he met his excitement became contagious. His speech to the gathering of Worcester businessmen and local VIPs began with a simple line, “I’m honored and humbled to be standing here today.”, and after thanking several people who got him to this point in the ownership process –and being a smart man, thanked his wife first– eventually moved on to a folksy style story about walking through Worcester with former mayor and current Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Murray on a frigid day, and later getting a requests from one of Worcester’s biggest companies about sponsorship opportunities.

One of the things that I thought would be important in a locally owned team is one that Rucker takes to heart: it’s all about family and positive relationships. That’s so important to him that his franchise won’t be just a team, it will be a “club” that anyone can join through season ticket packages or sponsorship opportunities. Like many of the European soccer teams use “FC” for “football club”, Rucker’s entry in the ECHL will be an “HC”, or “Hockey Club”. Essentially he’s creating Worcester HC. That’s not usual for hockey in North America, but matches the vision Rucker shared with those gathered.

The first official public event will be with a free FanFest on April 3rd at the DCU Center, where the team name and uniform crest will be unveiled.

Rucker eventually introduced the franchise’s first hire, Toby O’Brien, who will be President and General Manager. O’Brien then took the podium, and in his thick eastern Massachusetts accent really captured the crowd with a couple of stories. At one point O’Brien got a little choked up as an old friend walked into the event and stood in the back room. But that one moment of emotion directly correlates with Rucker’s ideals of family and community. While anyone can say they believe in those it’s clear that Rucker and O’Brien live them. Their relationship is that of old friends, and yet they’ve not known each other very long. That speaks well of both of them.

Earlier in the event Rucker came over to chat with me, mentioning that he’s read stories on this blog. He wanted to make it clear that there will never be any, as I put it, “PR-speak” from him. Rucker told me he says what he believes, and that’s something that will never change. That makes what he said to me and a couple others afterward truly mean something, and it’s something I and every other Worcester hockey fan wanted to hear…

“I want to win”.


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