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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

ECHL glad Toledo returning to league

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
McKenna McKenna
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Brian McKenna has been a proponent of Toledo hockey long before the Walleye hit the ice for the first time at the new Lucas County Arena.

In fact, the ECHL commissioner's support predates the Walleye franchise's formation.

When Toledo Arena Sports Inc. officials were deciding whether to remain in the ECHL or make the jump to the American Hockey League, or Triple-A minor league hockey, after agreeing to take over the Storm franchise in early 2007, McKenna pushed hard for Toledo to remain in the ECHL.

What appealed to him so much about this market, McKenna said, was the city's long hockey tradition, its history with the ECHL and its proximity to other ECHL teams.

“We're excited to have Toledo back,” McKenna said. “We wanted to keep Toledo in the ECHL because we really believe it's a good hockey market. We know there's been a base of fans there for a long time and we felt that the missing ingredient was the arena.”

McKenna, who will be in attendance at Lucas County Arena for the Walleye's first two games this weekend, said he's looking forward to his first glimpse of the finished product after participating in the groundbreaking of the building.

“We've heard nothing but good things about the facility,” McKenna said. “I think it's a very good size for our league. We're in that 7,000-to-7,500 seat range, which I think makes it very intimate, yet it has all the amenities of a modern, major league facility. Plus it's downtown, not far from the baseball park, and now you have the makings of an entertainment district. I'm very excited to visit.”

Also making the Walleye franchise very appealing to the ECHL was its ownership group, McKenna said.

“The fact that the Mud Hens ownership group who knows and understands the market and the fan base was going to be involved with both the arena and the hockey team made it a very, very attractive market for us to try to go back into,” McKenna said. “I think we're going to see over the next year or two that it was a very good decision.”

Founded in 1988, the ECHL consists of 20 team scattered across the country from Alaska to Florida.

But questions have arisen about the future of the league after two teams folded in midseason last year and three more went under at the end of the season, including the longtime Storm rival Dayton Bombers.

While the struggling economy has taken a toll on the ECHL, McKenna said there's no reason for alarm.

“I don't have any concerns about the overall sustainability of the ECHL,” McKenna said. “Markets coming and going occurs in minor league sports. Our league is very strong. I think what happened in the economic downturn was the teams that struggled even in good times got pushed over the edge. But the remaining teams in the league are stronger than they were before.”

In its heyday earlier this decade, the ECHL had 31 teams, but the league has seen that number gradually dwindle. McKenna said the league has no plans for any immediate expansion.

“We need to, like everyone else, weather the storm here in next 12 to 18 months while the economy recovers,” McKenna said. “I think at that point we're positioned for some gradual growth or expansion. But right now we're trying to work with our existing teams and make sure they're doing a good job in their market and are as healthy as possible.”

AMERICAN CONFERENCE

NORTH DIVISION

Cincinnati Cyclones

NHL affiliate: Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators

Coach: Chuck Weber

2008-09 record: 41-26 (lost in conference finals)

Arena: U.S. Bank Arena (6,995)

Web site: cycloneshockey.com

Kalamazoo Wings

NHL affiliate: Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks

Coach: Nick Bootland

2008-09 record: 44-29 (IHL)

Arena: Wings Stadium (5,113)

Web site: kwings.com

Toledo Walleye

NHL affiliate: Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks

Coach: Nick Vitucci

2008-09 record: N/A

Arena: Lucas County Arena (7,500)

Web site: toledowalleye.com

Wheeling Nailers

NHL affiliate: Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach: Greg Puhalski

2008-09 record: 36-28 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: WesBanco Arena (5,406)

Web site: wheelingnailers.com

SOUTH DIVISION

Charlotte Checkers

NHL affiliate: New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche

Coach: Derek Wilkinson

2008-09 record: 34-29 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: Time Warner Cable Arena (6,800)

Web site: gocheckers.com

Florida Everblades

NHL affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers

Coach: Malcolm Cameron

2008-09 record: 49-17 (lost in division finals)

Arena: Germain Arena (7,186)

Web site: floridaeverblades.com

Gwinnett Gladiators

NHL affiliate: Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets

Coach: Jeff Pyle

2008-09 record: 31-35 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: The Arena at Gwinnett Center (11,355)

Web site: gwinnettgladiators.com

South Carolina Stingrays

NHL affiliate: Washington Capitals

Coach: Cail MacLean

2008-09 record: 42-23 (Kelly Cup champions)

Arena: North Charleston Coliseum (6,712)

Web site: stingrayshockey.com

EAST DIVISION

Elmira Jackals

NHL affiliate: Ottawa Senators

Coach: Steve Martinson

2008-09 record: 39-26 (lost in division finals)

Arena: First Arena (3,784)

Web site: jackalshockey.com

Johnstown Chiefs

NHL affiliate: TBD

Coach: Jeff Flanagan

2008-09 record: 37-30

Arena: Cambria County War Memorial (3,880)

Web site: johnstownchiefs.com

Reading Royals

NHL affiliate: Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins

Coach: Larry Courville

2008-09 record: 24-42

Arena: Sovereign Center (7,160)

Web site: royalshockey.com

Trenton Devils

NHL affiliate: New Jersey Devils

Coach: Rick Kowalsky

2008-09 record: 40-25 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: Sovereign Bank Arena (7,605)

Web site: trentondevils.com

NATIONAL CONFERENCE

WEST DIVISION

Alaska Aces

NHL affiliate: St. Louis Blues

Coach: Brent Thompson

2008-09 record: 45-24 (lost in Kelly Cup finals)

Arena: Sullivan Arena (6,410)

Web site: alaskaaces.com

Idaho Steelheads

NHL affiliate: Dallas Stars

Coach: Derek Laxdal

2008-09 record: 44-24 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: Qwest Arena (5,006)

Web site: idahosteelheads.com

Utah Grizzlies

NHL affiliate: New York Islanders, Calgary Flames

Coach: Kevin Colley

2008-09 record: 28-28 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: The E-Center (10,207)

Web site: utahgrizzlies.com

Victoria Salmon Kings

NHL affiliate: Vancouver Canucks

Coach: Mark Morrison

2008-09 record: 38-27 (lost in division finals)

Arena: Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre (7,000)

Web site: salmonkings.com

PACIFIC DIVISION

Bakersfield Condors

NHL affiliate: Anaheim Ducks

Coach: Marty Raymond

2008-09 record: 33-31 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: Rabobank Arena (9000)

Web site: bakersfieldcondors.com

Las Vegas Wranglers

NHL affiliate: Phoenix Coyotes

Coach: Ryan Mougenel

2008-09 record: 34-31 (lost in conference finals)

Arena: Orleans Arena (7,773)

Web site: lasvegaswranglers.com

Ontario Reign

NHL affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

Coach: Karl Taylor

2008-09 record: 38-29 (lost in division semifinals)

Arena: Citizens Business Bank Arena (9,644)

Web site: ontarioreign.com

Stockton Thunder

NHL affiliate: Edmonton Oilers

Coach: Matt Thomas

2008-09 record: 32-33 (lost in division finals)

Arena: Stockton Arena (9,737)

Web site: stocktonthunder.com



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