AHL Commissioner David Andrews was in town for Game 3 of the Stars playoff series with Chicago on Tuesday. I managed to snag an interview with him after the game. Tuesday was also the day that Texas announced the completion of the criteria to become a full member in the AHL. Special thanks to Josh Fisher for facilitating the interview.
HDH: Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting Texas's franchise and your excitement about the team's permanent status?
DA: "Well I am excited in that that limited membership that we granted to the Texas Stars, it was the first time it had ever happened in 74 years of AHL hockey, and there was some element of risk involved in doing that. There were not a lot of franchise for sale and we needed to find one that was saleable and available to come to Texas. We felt a year ago that the likelihood is that we would find one. We didn't have one at the time last May, but we thought that the Iowa franchise probably would be able to be packaged and sold. But as the winter wore on, it became more and more challenging to make that happen and there weren't a lot of other franchises available for sale either.
"Looking back, now that we've managed to get it done, we did the right thing. It was important to get the Stars started, get this building going, and establish the AHL here in Cedar Park. Now that the transaction has been approved and will close in the next few days, it really is a great solution. It settles a number of issues that were surrounding the Iowa franchise in Des Moines, and there were some significant issues there. Those are now resolved, the creditors are paid, or will be when this closes. And obviously the Hicks Cedar Park group now have full membership in the league and that whole question of what's happening is no longer a question."
HDH: On the future of hockey in Iowa, the Wells Fargo Arena had wanted a hockey tenant. Do you see a future there for the AHL?
DA: "Well, I do. I think it's a great building and I think it's a good market. They were making good progress there with the Chops franchise. They just got themselves in a deep hole early on in the beginnings of the franchise that they were unable to climb out of. Clearly, Global Spectrum, who managed the building there, really would like to have an AHL team. The Polk County Commissioners have asked us to work with them to try to acquire one. It's going to be a question of whether at some point one of our teams in another market begins to struggle and is looking for a new home. I think that if that unfolds Des Moines has a great facility and is well-situated geographically for us. It would have to be pretty close to the top of the list of potential new locations for us."
HDH: Speaking of new locations, next year Oklahoma City is going to have a franchise and that brings us to 30 teams in the AHL. What's next for the league?
DA: "Obviously we're going to Charlotte as well, so Charlotte and Oklahoma City are new markets for us. Getting to 30 has been an objective of ours for some time. This is the first we're going into a season with all 30 of our franchises active and matching up with the 30 NHL teams, which has been a goal of both the NHL's and ours for some time, to be able to have every NHL team with a primary affiliate in our league.
"I think [the goal is] simply continued growth. We've had an exceptionally good run in the last two years as a league when you look at the economy of the United States and Canada and how tough it's been. We've been through it really strong. Our attendance has grown; our revenues have grown. We've moved some franchises into new markets, like this one, that have been very successful. So I think it's onward and upward. Right now we're just focused on getting through our playoffs and enjoying the next four to six weeks of hockey because it's a great time of year."
HDH: You've been Commissioner for all of the expansions into the Texas market. We now have players started to be drafted out of Texas who may be playing in the NHL someday. Do you attribute the growth of youth hockey to the AHL in Texas?
DA: "It may not all be the AHL. There's been some of the lower level leagues in minor pro hockey that flourished years ago in Texas which must have grown the interest in the sport somewhat. The commitment that the San Antonio Spurs (who own the Rampage) have made and the Houston entry ... have made to hockey ... have really driven it as well. I think we'll probably see growth in this market and with Oklahoma City coming in, it's starting to give us a real strong presence in this region and I think OKC is likely to be a very successful franchise in our league.
"It can't help but grow the game and I think that's been a big role of our league over the last number of years. It's interesting. Brian Burke was speaking at our All-Star event, and I had never really thought of it and I've been at this a long time, 16 years as President of the league. Brian said at our dinner, 'I know Dave has never thought about it this way but when you think about the growth of the league and expansion of the league in the United States over the last 15-16 years and how that has driven the growth in youth hockey, it's really had an impact on hockey across the US in a lot of markets.' So if that's a spin off effect, it's a really good effect for our league because it's all about growing the game and building more interest in the game."
HDH: You mentioned the All-Star game. You've seen the facility here in Cedar Park. What do you think?
DA: "Sure, absolutely! I would never say never. I think it's a great facility. I think as the fanbase grows and if the Stars have an interest in hosting, we'd be happy to announce that. It'd be nice to come to a warmer climate at that time of the year! Next year, obviously, we're going into Hershey as this is our 75th anniversary year. All along I've hoped we'd end up in Hershey. I twisted an arm or two, and we're gonna have a great event there next year."
Thanks again to David Andrews and Josh Fisher for this interview.