I just got off the phone with ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna, who was very gracious to respond to my interview request made earlier this morning.
As you may know, McKenna was the general manager and president of the-then Trenton Titans from their inception through the 2001-02 season, so the capital city certainly holds a special place in his heart. While my initial request was regarding how Johnstown’s departure affected the league — we’ll get to that — I couldn’t help but ask him a few questions about the state of the Trenton franchise.
“Like a lot of markets, Trenton has suffered in this current economy,” McKenna told me.
“But I still believe the Trenton market is a good one. The Devils have made some changes that will have a positive impact on the upcoming season, and my feeling is that you’ll see attendance trend in a positive direction in the 2010-11 season.”
Perhaps a bigger question is whether or not Trenton will even have an ECHL franchise next season, with rumors abound that the Devils organization may move their AHL affiliate here thanks to Lowell’s lease agreement running out after this season.
McKenna said there absolutely will be an ECHL franchise in Trenton next season, and that teams were required to make their commitments to play the 2010-11 season at the mid-season meetings that started in Ontario several weeks ago.
Several other things became official as a result of those meetings. For starters, McKenna confirmed that the ECHL is definitely going into next season with 19 teams.
“Anything that happens with expansion or anything like that would, at this point, be for the 2011-12 season,” he said.
He anticipates division realignment as the result of Johnstown moving to Greenville, but that may not be finalized until the playoffs come around or perhaps later. It’s a possibility that the American Conference will contract to 11 teams, and that Greenville will go to the National Conference.
It also seems possible that there may be a bit more variety in the schedule next season, as some teams may be willing to come east to play a handful of games, and vice versa.
As for the Chiefs leaving, that also has a direct impact on Trenton, who has served as a long-time rival to Johnstown. But it has a much greater impact on the history of the league, as the Chiefs were the only remaining charter franchise in the now 22-year-old organization.
“To a certain extent, it’s a sad day,” McKenna said.
“With all the tradition in Johnstown, it was disappointing to see them go. But there was also a certain inevitability to it. We as a league knew for several years that they had struggled.”
However, with the team not completely going away and Charlotte getting “called up” to the AHL, it still leaves the ECHL with 19 relatively healthy teams.
“We’ve been very cautious after coming out of last year,” McKenna said.
“We hoped we’d come into next year with 20 teams, but one of our teams was able to move up, which is positive both for us and the evolution of hockey in the area. Of course, we were disappointed to see Charlotte go, but it’s a positive thing.”
He also pointed towards bringing Toledo back and bringing Kalamazoo in as positives for the long-term health of the league.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com