Jason Kay, the trusty editor in chief of THN, is never far from reminding me my blog is overdue.
This is necessary because my BlackBerry does not have a THN alarm built into the calendar.
This is also a good thing because between hundreds of email alarms, phone calls and appointment reminders on a daily basis, one more task could take me over the edge.
Outside of these BlackBerry moments, I am feeling particularly thankful to be president of the American League, primarily thanks to the achievements of others.
The actions of Jeff Daniels, coach of the Albany River Rats, in leading his players through what was a terrifying and potentially tragic bus crash gives us all cause to appreciate great leadership. Managing that crisis both in the immediate moment and in the aftermath with players, coaches and staff showed tremendous strength. We are thankful the outcome of this accident was not far worse and are reminded that safety must be a primary concern as our teams travel to more than 1,200 games a year, often in less than perfect conditions.
Our All-Star Classic held in Worcester last month was a terrific event thanks to the efforts of the Worcester Sharks and a host of volunteers. With more than 14,000 fans in attendance on back-to-back nights and record-breaking television ratings across North America we couldn’t be happier. As always, our players were appreciative, approachable and enthusiastic. They put on a great show of skill and speed, while clearly having a great time doing it.
One of the highlights of the weekend was our AHL Hall of Fame Luncheon that saw the induction of four new members – including Bruce Boudreau, in recognition of his outstanding career as both a player and coach in the AHL. It was terrific to have Harry Sinden, Gerry Cheevers, Ron Hextall, Mike Milbury, Bill Torrey and many other legendary AHL graduates in attendance.
Speaking of Boudreau and NHL coaches, the recent promotion of Dan Bylsma to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Cory Clouston to the Ottawa Senators brings the number of current NHL coaches who have been AHL head coaches to 17. Seven of those – John Anderson, Boudreau, Todd McLellan, John Stevens, Barry Trotz, John Tortorella and Mike Keenan – won Calder Cups during their AHL days.
Other achievements of note this season includes some rewriting of the AHL record book. Alexandre Giroux of the Hershey Bears scored a goal in 15 consecutive games, breaking the league record set by Brett Hull in 1987. Current league scoring leader Keith Aucoin recently hit the 500-point plateau for his AHL career, as did former AHL MVP Darren Haydar. Keith and Darren join a select group of just 74 players in our 73-year history to have achieved 500 career points.
A couple of weeks ago the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, played a home game at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. It was a terrific opportunity to showcase some of the Sabres’ stars of the future, including Nathan Gerbe and Buffalo native Tim Kennedy. More than 11,000 fans attended the game, which was fast-paced and physical. It ended in a shootout win by the River Rats over the Pirates. (This was our second off-site game this year. The Hamilton Bulldogs hosted the Binghamton Senators at the Bell Centre in Montreal in late November with more than 14,000 fans in attendance.)
Despite a difficult economy, our attendance continues to be solid. Overall, we have seen a slight decline in ticket revenue, while almost half of our teams have actually increased ticket sales versus last season. With more than 750 games in the books our average league attendance is slightly less than 5,000 fans per game and I anticipate by season’s end we should be well above that mark. Working harder, working smarter and investing in sales and marketing will be crucial as we attempt to turn the challenge of this economy into an opportunity.
Anyone who is reading this blog is obviously a hockey fan, so you too must be enjoying this banner season. I see a lot of games live in the AHL and virtually every other available night I am watching the NHL on television. The games in both leagues are terrific. Since the rules evolved in 2004-05 the game has become exponentially more entertaining. The speed, skill, contact, emotion and tremendously talented young players who have come into the game since 2005 have taken hockey to a whole new level of excitement. I am amazed at the capacity of some in the media and elsewhere to continually find fault with our sport when we have such a great game to celebrate.
The final bit of news to give me reason to appreciate life in the AHL is that we have hit some strong metrics in terms of player development. At this stage of the year we’ve had 275 players recalled to see action in the NHL, including 118 who played their first NHL game. The NHL player pool is now comprised of 85 percent AHL graduates.
One last note: If you have not yet read Justin Bourne’s Blog you are missing something. This guy is a great talent. Jason Kay is going to have to put some heat on him to write more regularly!
Dave Andrews is the American League's CEO and president, roles he has held since 1994. A goalie during his playing days, his administrative hockey career has included stops as the Edmonton Oilers’ director of AHL operations, senior consultant with SportCanada, and head coach and director of hockey operations for the Western League’s Victoria Cougars. You can read his other THN.com Blogs HERE.