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Harmony at top has front office off and running

Friday, 10.31.2008 / 11:00 AM / ECHL Report

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Reunited, and it feels so good.

That's the case at ECHL headquarters, where Brian McKenna and Richard Lisk are once again working under the same roof. The latter -- who helped McKenna, the current ECHL Commissioner, build the Trenton Titans from the ground up back in 1998 -- became the league's Vice President of Marketing and Business Development less than 2 weeks ago.
   
Lisk had replaced McKenna as general manager of the Titans when McKenna left to become commissioner in 2002. Lisk remained in that position until December 2004 -- which turned out to be in the midst of Trenton's lone championship season -- and became GM of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul in 2005.
   
Just as he helped prepare Trenton for its introduction into the ECHL, Lisk did the same for the Soul, which won the Arena Bowl last season.

Yet, when Glen Thornborough decided to leave the ECHL, his VP of Marketing and Business Development position became open. That opened the door for Lisk to return to his native New Jersey and to once again work with McKenna.
   
It was an offer he couldn't refuse.
   
"I'm a sports guy," Lisk told NHL.com. "It's 12 minutes from my house. Working with the Soul, I really missed hockey. I've always loved the league and I've always been close to the people in this office. It's a great fit for me."
   
It's a great fit for McKenna, too. While the commissioner informed NHL.com that there were several quality candidates in the mix, bringing Lisk into the mix was an extremely comfortable decision.
   
"It's good to be back with him," McKenna said. "Obviously, we had a great relationship in Trenton and had some success there. When Glen decided to move on, we had a number of candidates. Rich came into the picture a little bit later, but we talked and it seemed like a good fit and we decided to bring him back. He's kind of uniquely qualified because he's run a team in this league. He understands our business very well and he's a great addition for us."
   
After McKenna was hired by the Berman family to be Trenton's first GM in 1998, his first order of business was to put together a staff that could intrigue New Jersey's capital city and its surrounding areas with ECHL hockey. Obviously, McKenna needed someone with marketing expertise. Enter Lisk.
   
"Rich was my first hire in '98," McKenna said. "We had the advantage there in that we had basically 15 months from the time he came on board to build the organization and really get into the marketplace and not only build a brand, but build a season-ticket base, a sponsorship base and we had the appropriate amount of time to do that.

"We really worked hard, but there was also a sense in the community that they were excited about having a hockey team and a brand new arena. That's not something that the Trenton area had experienced before. It was a very enjoyable experience."
   
While they had a lot of lead time to put the pieces in place, opening night at Sovereign Bank Arena in 1999 was a night that neither McKenna or Lisk will soon forget. What once was nothing more than an idea turned into a capacity crowd of more than 7,000 people, who were there to cheer on their Trenton Titans.
   
The hard work indeed paid off.
   
"The place was absolutely jammed-packed," McKenna said. "Because we had been there for 15 months in advance, we kind of nurtured it along. There was a great deal of pride for everyone from business people to politicians to just local fans. To see it come to fruition, it was a special night for us. It was one of those moments that you carry with you for a long time."
   
Lisk's ability to work both with and for McKenna played a huge role in his decision to join the ECHL. While some may think it may be odd to have a friend as a boss, Lisk doesn't see it that way at all.
   
"I was 29 years old when I started working with Brian and now I'm 40," Lisk said. "That's a lot of years. Working with Brian was never really like having a boss. He always treated me fairly. He tells you what your responsibilities are, and then you go out and do them. There's no micro-managing with Brian. He gives you the ability to do what you think is best."
   

"He's kind of uniquely qualified because he's run a team in this league. He understands our business very well and he's a great addition for us."
-- Brian McKenna

Lisk's main order of business is to do what he thinks is best for not only the league's office, but for each of its clubs. His prior experience in Trenton can be nothing but beneficial for all parties involved. While some things have changed since he left the Titans almost four years ago, Lisk is prepared to whatever it takes to help hockey's premier Double-A league.
   
"The league's a lot different, but I'm a go-getter," Lisk said. "There's certain things I've got to learn. We've got to get ownership's approval on stuff. As a GM, you manage a lot and I got away from the marketing a little bit. I still did it, but I wasn't involved with it day-to-day. Now, I can do that again and help the teams around the league in any way I can."

Considering the contacts Lisk has formed during the past 10 years between Trenton and Philadelphia, McKenna is confident that the ECHL will be successful in its attempt to lure new fans to its rinks.

"We continue to look to grow in certain areas," McKenna said. "One of the things that Rich brings to the table is that he's very innovative. He's got a lot of energy and he's willing to try new ideas and concepts. Internally, we're looking to grow our online business and continue to get the word out on the ECHL, but also use it as a source of income from advertising and the like.

"I think he's got some ideas as to how we might do that. I think just with his Rolodex and his experience in the AFL that there's probably some league partners and sponsors that he can bring to the table.

"Externally, I think one of the things that his job has to be focused on is to continue to work with our teams on new ideas to market our product and introduce new fans to our product right across the league."
   
Across the ECHL -- Kelly Murray, the league's Assistant Director of Communications/New Media, was named the new Communications Coordinator of the Washington Capitals. … Wheeling (4-0-1), Dayton (3-0-0), Fresno (3-0-0) and Gwinnett (1-0-2) have yet to lose in regulation. … Almost 9,000 people watched the Ontario Reign win their first home game last Saturday, 4-1 against the Las Vegas Wranglers at the brand new Citizens Business Bank Arena. Ontario is off to a 3-2-0 start. … Elmira's Tyler Donati leads the league with 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in just 6 games.

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.


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