American Hockey League President and CEO Dave Andrews was in the Los Angeles International Airport waiting for a flight on Tuesday.
Winnipeg, for the return of the Manitoba Moose at the MTS Centre on Thursday night.
“That’s going to be an exciting atmosphere,” Andrews said in a phone interview from LAX. “It’s good to have the Moose back.”
Andrews started his journey last week when he watched the Bakersfield Condors down the Grand Rapids Griffins 1-0, courtesy of a late goal by Andrew Miller — who used to be an Oklahoma City Baron.
One night later, Andrews watched the San Diego Gulls open their season in front of 12,920 fans at the Valley View Casino Center — more than 3,000 miles away from the Norfolk Scope Arena.
“It was a great crowd, they really have some well-educated and hard-core hockey fans. They where rocking from start to finish,” Andrews said. “There are parts of the country where they’re fans, but they’re still new to the game. They’re not new in San Diego, it was really something neat to see.”
Welcome to the new American Hockey League, which in it’s 80th season has embraced west coast living.
“It’s exciting,” Andrews said. “It’s a lot of change and product of work that’s been going back a number of years. It’s exciting to be opening in California, this is what the NHL teams were looking for as it developed.”
Development has been the key word throughout this re-location process, and it’s the reasoning behind the off-kilter schedule.
California teams play 68 games, because their NHL parent clubs wanted more time for practice, while the rest of the league will play 76.
“It wasn’t an easy process to work through,” Andrews said. “You’re looking at solutions that we worked through as a group.”
It also can’t be understated enough. Those solutions saved the AHL as a one-to-one pipeline to the NHL.
Throughout the process it became clear the west coast NHL teams were going to bring their prospects closer to home — they were set on that — and the AHL was set on remaining a 30-team league.
In order for both to get their wish, 68 games and points percentage became a fact of life for the league.
“Concerning, but not concerning enough for us not to do what we did,” Andrews had said earlier this summer.
Andrews and league officials will be evaluating the situation all season but “it’s too early to make judgements” after one weekend.
And evaluation and change is part of the AHL’s DNA, especially considering there are 101 teams that have ceased operations, relocated, or been re-named in the 80-year history.
That’s what happened in the most recent changes. While California hockey was one of the worst-kept secrets, other parts of the shuffle were added late in the process.
“I can’t say there was an exact end product in sight throughout the process,” Andrews said. “We were always working through a number of things. For example, we hadn’t really envisioned the Manitoba Moose returning or the Hamilton franchise moving to St. John’s until really late last season.”