Maine Hockey Journal

Ducks fly west to Iowa

It’s official.

Anaheim Ducks’ Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke and Kirby Schlegel, Founder and Chairman of Schlegel Sports, owner of Iowa’s AHL franchise made the announcement today in Des Moines that they’ve agreed to a two-year affiliation agreement through 2011.

This effectively ends the Ducks relationship in Portland after three years.

“We appreciate the opportunity we have had over the past three seasons to work with the Anaheim Ducks,” said Pirates Managing Owner and CEO Brian Petrovek in a statement released shortly after the announcement. “The Ducks’ organization provided our fans and our community with a high quality product both on and off the ice. We’re grateful for that and we wish the Ducks well as they relocate their minor league player development activities closer to home. The Portland Pirates brand is better and stronger as a result of our time together.”

Brian Burke has never hid the fact that ownership has wanted to move the affiliation closer to Anaheim because of travel concerns. Ultimately, the Samueli’s would like to have their affiliate in California in order to grow their brand.

“The Samueli’s have been very public that their long-term goal is to have all their farm teams in California,” said Burke. “We’ve already signed an ECHL affiliate agreement in Bakersfield. We’ve signed a two-year deal here and we’ll be here for two years. That goal is a long-term goal (for the organization) and I’d be surprised if we accomplish that anytime real soon. I think it’s more like four, five or six years away.”

While no one can tell what the future will hold for the AHL in regards to westward movement, at least one member of the AHL Board of Governors sees it as a fragile idea at best.

“It would be a challenge for us as a business to try and make sense of a national footprint,” said Petrovek. “It’s something that runs counter to what we’re trying to do as a player development league. It forces you, no matter how many teams you have or how you align your division or conferences to put players on airplanes and when you putting them in airplanes, you’re not putting them in weight rooms and on the ice.

Petrovek went on to explain how it affects players who’ve travel the great distances in the Western Conference, although it’s gotten significantly better than in year’s past. A team in California would throw that out of whack.

“(A player’s) rest and recovery is far different when you’re traveling a national footprint then when you’re traveling in the Atlantic Division. We have the tidiest, coziest situation and that’s a benefit to a player’s development. They can sleep in their own rooms they aren’t in hotels. They’re resting, recovering and training a different way because they don’t have to travel so much.”

During the press conference, Burke said that former Pirates’ coach Kevin Dineen is a candidate for at least one coaching job in the NHL and may not be back with the Ducks.

“We don’t know yet (who our coach will be).”

“Our coach in Portland, Kevin Dineen, has been very successful. He’s currently a candidate for at least one assistant NHL coaching job so we may not have his services. I’ve know coach (Dave) Allison for a while and he’s made his interest clear to me that if there’s a vacancy, he would like to be considered, which we would do.”

While Burke never addressed the reason for leaving Portland, he did make sure to thank the ownership group and fan base of Portland for the past three years.

“We have had a good relationship (with Pirates ownership) and we’ve had success on and off the ice,” he said.

“The fans in Portland were good to our players and I want to thank them.”

The new Ducks affiliate will play in a more modern facility. The Wells Fargo Arena was opened back in 2005 with a price tag of 99 million dollars.

“It’s generational,” said Burke. “The facilities (at Des Moines) are better in many respects to our building in Anaheim and certainly better than what we had in Portland.

(The Civic Center) is a mint arena for an arena its age. It’s a beautiful building for a building that’s 30 years old.

Wells Fargo Arena seats a little over 15,000 for hockey including suites, club seating and other expanding amenities. Last year, the Stars (former name of the franchise) averaged 3,789 per game, which ranked them 26th out of the 29-team league.

Portland averages 4,861 per game in the 6,733 seat Cumberland County Civic Center.

In terms of players on the ice, the Iowa franchise will see many of the same faces that were in Portland, but one noticeable difference will be the lack of veterans.

It’s expected that Iowa will be made up of mostly prospects, albeit very good prospects.

Several players expected back or to make the jump to Iowa includes Ryan Dingle, Brendan Mikkelson, Brian Salcido, Jean-Philippe Levasseur, Bobby Bolt, Petteri Wirtanen, Brett Festerling, and Michal Birner.

The Pirates AHL future looks bright as well they expect to announce a new NHL affiliate in the coming days. It’s expected that the Buffalo Sabres will move their operation from the Rochester, NY to Portland after 29 years.

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There was a recent story in the National Post yesterday indicating that the NHL GM’s have reduced AHL schedule by an undetermined number of games. According the AHL office, the story is inaccurate and the schedule has not been reduced.

“NHL GM’s do not determine the length of the AHL schedule, the AHL does,” said Jason Chaimovitch AHL VP of Communications.

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