We’re bullish about year two and we’re bullish about the product we’re going to put on the ice. It’s just a challenge of education. We have to make sure our market understands the quality of the play and appreciates it, and realizes that there are a lot of buildings like this in the United States and Canada that will be without professional hockey teams at this level. - Brian Petrovek
GLENS FALLS, NY -- Last May, Brian Petrovek’s biggest challenge was selling a new Adirondack Flames franchise to the Glens Falls, N.Y. market, only five months before the 2014-15 season’s start.
The region has been quick to embrace the team because of its relentless, hard work-style of play and on-ice success -- currently just four points behind Utica in the AHL’s North Division standings.
Now Petrovek, the Adirondack Flames’ president, has a solid foundation and plenty of time to work with, as he begins preparing for next year. But his challenge now is selling another new team, playing at a lower level, to fans following this week’s announcement that the Flames are moving to Stockton, Calif., and will be replaced at Adirondack by a new Calgary affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League.
Petrovek said, during a Friday press conference welcoming the ECHL to Glens Falls, that he sees the change as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
“We’re bullish about year two and we’re bullish about the product we’re going to put on the ice,” he said. “It’s just a challenge of education. We have to make sure our market understands the quality of the play and appreciates it, and realizes that there are a lot of buildings like this in the United States and Canada that will be without professional hockey teams at this level.”
“I think the region will appreciate the fact that it has one,” Petrovek said. “So I’m not concerned about fallout. The league continues to get better and better. With NHL teams purchasing and making an investment in the ECHL I think you’re going to see more of that.”
The Flames made considerable upgrades to 4,800-seat Glens Falls Civic Center, which opened in 1979, prior to this season with the addition of a new 1,000-square foot strength-and-condition area, and improvements to dressing room and medical office space.
Petrovek said Calgary’s purchase and move of the Stockton franchise to Glens Falls demonstrates its commitment to the Adirondack market, which has had pro hockey since the 1979-80 season, with the exception of three years. Prior to the Flames, a Flyers affiliate -- the Phantoms -- spent five years at Adirondack and never made the playoffs.
Except for a bumpy start in October, the Flames have been in contention for a postseason berth all year, a big turnaround from what fans had been used to. This, along with the continued Calgary affiliation, should be key selling points as Petrovek and the ECHL anticipate a new chapter in Adirondack hockey history.
Adirondack will be one of only four East Coast league teams with an NHL affiliation. The team, whose name will be announced soon, will play in a division that includes Elmira, Reading, Pa. and Manchester, N.H.
The ECHL plays a 72-game schedule, four less than the AHL, and has 28 teams. ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said plans call for adding two more franchises in the next year or so, giving it 30, the same as the NHL and AHL.
The AHL announced Thursday that it is creating a new Pacific Division next year, so those teams can be closer to their parent NHL teams on the West Coast and in Western Canada.
McKenna said coming to Adirondack, a market with a long hockey tradition, is a big plus.
“What the fans are looking for is their team to be competitive in the league that they’re playing in,” he said. “To work hard, put on a good product, win their share of home games. If that happens I think the fan base is likely to be satisfied.”
The Adirondack Flames are currently averaging about 3,600 fans per game. Saturday night’s (Jan. 31) contest against Rochester will be the first home game since this week’s announcement that AHL hockey is leaving Glens Falls.
“It’s kind of disappointing,” said long-time fan Richard Cipperly of nearby Queensbury, N.Y. “But we do have a tradition of hockey in Glens Falls. Honestly, I think the community will support ECHL.”
Earlier this week, AHL President Dave Andrews said the Civic Center lacks amenities needed for today’s top prospects such as adequate training, medical and dressing room facilities.
But McKenna said, “I think it’s a great venue for hockey. You’re right on top of the action. We don’t have any issue.”
Petrovek said efforts are under way to secure state funding for more building improvements. This includes the team area, Heritage Hall where money-generating events are held, and infrastructure such as electrical, heating and ventilation.
“There’s probably not a piece of the building we haven’t looked at,” he said.
A new non-profit Civic Center Coalition comprised of local business and civic leaders recently purchased the Civic Center from the City of Glens Falls.
“You fill this building and it rocks,” Petrovek said. “It’s one of the toughest buildings (for opponents) to play in. The building is prepared for high-quality professional hockey in a very professional way.”