“We’ve had the same ownership. They’ve had to be educated in a certain way in what we’re trying to do because when an owner comes to the building, he wants to win. It used to be if a key player was out of the lineup on a certain night, well we’d fly another one in, damn the cost. That part of it has changed a little, not so much bringing players in because we still do that. The Southern Professional [Hockey] League has helped out a little bit. The league is going to look more and more at getting that league be more of a feeder league, or try to get more of a tiered system so we have more of a baseball [set-up where there’s] major league, Triple-A, and we’re Double-A and then have a Single-A. So we can actually get players in who aren’t used car salesmen, real estate guys and insurance salesmen playing games this time of year. That part of it has changed.
“The exciting part I think is two years ago we had a team that had Joey Tenute, Rich Peverley and Mark Ardelan. Peverley just played the other day in the NHL and Tenute got a chance [in 2005-06] in Washington. We’re going to see more and more of that now because our affiliation with the Caps is more of a true affiliation. We feel we have players here that the Caps see a future for, and want to see move up. We see more of the Washington scouts and people down here than we ever did with any of our previous affiliations.
“I think we need to try to find a way from a public relations standpoint to sell that to our fans a little bit better. ‘Isn’t that neat that Rich Peverley got to play in Nashville?’ We’ve taught our fans that the Stingrays winning is the most important thing. And it is important. It’s important for the Stingrays to win. But we are a developmental league and this league has come 180 degrees from an entertainment league to a developmental league. It’s still entertaining and we still have motorcycles revving their engines when the team skates out and things like that. But it is here to develop players and it is going to be a younger league. With younger players you get flashes of brilliance and you get mistakes. It can be 5-1 in the first 10 minutes.
“I think the level of play has gone up in the league over the last couple of years. When everyone has their players it has gone up and it has gotten better because more and more NHL teams like Tampa Bay and the Caps are seeing the ECHL as a viable place to put prospects rather than keeping them around at the AHL level and have them work out with the team and ride a bike while the other guys are playing. I don’t think they gain anything or learn the game [in that environment]. I hope that continues. It makes it easier for what we’re trying to do if more teams rely on affiliate players to play. It levels the playing field.
“Our fans sometimes think that if you’re a draft pick of the Washington Capitals you are going to be our best player. That’s not necessarily true. You might have gotten drafted for four or five different reasons and it doesn’t mean you’re going to come down to this level and you’re going to lead the league in scoring. That might not be what you’re paid to do. Not everyone understands and I don’t always understand that people get drafted for a reason. The mother ship sees somebody filling a role down the way.
“It’s exciting to see a draft pick come down here. I grew up watching hockey so it’s exciting for me to see a guy like [Viktor] Dovgan come here and try to put myself in the position of scouts and general managers on draft day and say, ‘Why did they take him?’ and try to see what they saw. I find that interesting to watch, but we still have people who just want to come and see the fights and watch the Stingrays win, and that’s good. Most people are probably like that. That’s probably a good thing. But I like the affiliate players from all the teams. We’ve had first-rounders in the league for years, but they’re on their way out. We’ve never had first-rounders come down for two weeks and go back up [to the AHL or NHL] ready to play. That’s what you’re getting now from the first-rounders at this level.