Written by LGA contributorÂ Ted Cichanowicz
Mr Andrews….if you weren’t doing anything special on this night, perhaps you should have made a visit to Rochester, NY to take in the festivities at the Blue Cross Arena. And if you had come, it may make you painfully aware of how you have so devalued, besmirched, and destroyed the integrity of this once well respected league. By caving into a few NHL bullies, you and your colleagues have turned the American Hockey League into joke, a cartoon, a caricature of its former self. Â By allowing a small number to convince you that it is OK to play fewer games than the rest of your teams; that practice is more important than competition; that so-called development trumps winning despite still charging admission to watch these lifeless contests, you have succeeded in making a mockery out of a well established and storied institution.
Come to Rochester and talk to the former players who wore the Amerks crest; who won Calder Cups; and who said, in many cases that their time here was a highlight of their hockey careers. The pride of team; the work ethic of striving for excellence; and the ultimate goal of winning a championship–all of these things exist not just in the hallowed NHL, but at every level of competition. Rochester used to be one of your model franchises. It is no longer. However for one shining moment this evening, the magic returned. The building was packed. The returning players were announced as they came out on the ice in their Amerk sweaters. All who were interviewed, including ones who sent along video messages (Don Cherry, John Tortorella among other notables) emphasized what a wonderful experience playing and coaching in Rochester was for them.
But now the entire league has been reduced to emphasizing ‘development’ over winning, when in reality you need both. If your NHL brethren only care about their beloved ‘prospects’ practicing, then let them practice….outside the walls of competition. Don’t make the hard working fans pay for this stupidity.
How in the world, as President, do you for one minute think it is fair for 5 teams to play fewer games than the other 25, and still let them compete on a level playing field? What lunacy is it to rank hockey teams by percentage, when since the games inception, it has always been about getting the 2 points? Why didn’t you stand up for your league and tell those Western NHL teams that what they were asking was completely out of the question? It was wrong-headed then; it is today; and it will continue to be for as long as you allow this travesty to go on.
Why don’t you talk to the former players; then talk to the fans and ask them if they really feel, as you do, that ‘the AHL has never been better’? You will hear, almost without exception, that perhaps the AHL has never been worse, overall. Maybe the fans in Toronto are enjoying things, but I don’t think that view is shared league-wide, and certainly not here. I don’t place a lot of credence in posted attendance numbers either, because clearly they don’t accurately reflect actual fannies in the seats. By de-emphasizing competition and winning as the primary goal, you are losing fans in many AHL cities, at the expense of blowing your horn about getting 5 new western cities, who seem to be able to make their own rules. Why?
With all due respect Mr Andrews, you are slowly and methodically killing the heart and soul of this league. It is by degree, being watered down. The NHL bosses are clearly dictating your every move. For one night, you should have come to Rochester to experience what the league once was; what it still could be; but will probably never ever experience again if you continue in the direction you are going. The ‘development only’ matrix is a recipe for disaster; the outdated veteran rule has long since outlived its usefulness; the schedule is complete joke. Rochester and Hershey are your two foundation teams. Yet last year they didn’t even play each other. This year they play each other twice. You are missing out on some history and rivalry among these two cities that would translate into great fan interest. Why isn’t this happening Mr President?
Development AND winning has always been a hallmark of the AHL…even as far back as when there were 6 NHL teams and 8 AHL teams. The difference however was that winning counted just as much. Winning aids in development. Providing entertainment for the paying customer mattered. The Calder Cup was a reward worth busting through the boards to attain. You have stripped this league of pretty much all of this.
Mr Andrews, as a long time season ticket holder, I would ask you to fix this league. Start being a President in matters that really count for your customers..the fans and that would include fairness, competition, winning, and entertainment value. That’s why you exist. If you don’t think so, simply shut it down and let the prospects practice to their hearts content.
I assure you, the players won’t be happy with that. They lace ’em up to compete not practice.Â Feel free to refute these thoughts if you think they are unfair. Â I walked into the Blue Cross Arena tonight and for one shining moment, it was 1965-66 again. It was 1970. It was 1980, It was 1990. That is when the AHL was elite. When it mattered. When memories were made to last.
As we filed out tonite, and the cheers faded away, and the lights were extinguished, it was all gone.