The 2010 Calder Cup has been presented to the Hershey Bears, capping what has been arguably the most successful season for any team in the 74-year history of the American League. After winning a record 60 games in the regular season, the Bears capitalized on this momentum en route to their second consecutive Calder Cup, clinching the title on home ice for the first time in 30 years in front of the largest crowd in franchise history (11,002).
All six games in the final between Texas and Hershey were sold out, with record-breaking attendance in both the Giant Center in Hershey and the beautiful new Cedar Park Center in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. The NHL Network and XM Satellite Radio also provided live coverage of the series to viewers and listeners in the U.S. and Canada.
Chris Bourque was the winner of the Jack Butterfield Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, tying teammate Alexandre Giroux for the post-season scoring lead with 27 points in 21 games. Bourque was especially big in Eastern Conference final win over the Manchester Monarchs and the final series versus the Stars.
As we draw to the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season (the annual meeting of our players’ association in Orlando, the AHL marketing summit in Chicago and the NHL draft in Los Angeles are still on my calendar) it is good to be looking back on a year that has really been terrific for our game and for the AHL.
The NHL enjoyed a banner year with an amazing series of stories provided by the Canadiens, Flyers and Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs, not to mention the outstanding caliber of hockey we saw at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The fantastic gold medal final between Canada and Team USA being capped with Sidney Crosby’s overtime-winner provided a magic memory for hockey fans and a broad-based platform to promote the sport.
This season the AHL had significant growth in attendance and revenues across the board, despite a slow start. We had a solid launch in all three new AHL cities, particularly in Texas, where the Stars played to sellout crowds and defeated both the Chicago Wolves and Hamilton Bulldogs in thrilling seven-game series on their way to the Calder Cup final.
Most importantly, we have set the table for a 30-team AHL for the 2010-11 season. It has been a goal of ours for some time to match up 30 AHL clubs with 30 NHL affiliates and it is only fitting that we achieve this as we head into our historic 75th season of continuous play.
The addition of the Oklahoma City Barons as the Edmonton Oilers affiliate, the addition of the Charlotte Checkers with the Carolina Hurricanes as their parent club, the transition from Lowell to Albany for the New Jersey Devils and new affiliation agreements in Springfield (Columbus) and Syracuse (Anaheim) are all positive and progressive steps for the league.
Other key business developments for us include the extension of our supplier and marketing agreement with Reebok-CCM through the 2015-16 season, the extension of our EA Sports licensing agreement and the extension of our long-standing corporate partnership agreement with RBC.
On the television front, we increased our live game presence with the NHL Network, had our first-ever national telecast on CBC and once again had an outstanding All-Star Classic with TSN in Canada and regional networks across the U.S. Our first-ever outdoor game, held in Syracuse in February, was a home run, drawing a record crowd in excess of 21,000 and showcasing our league to a live international television audience.
In the months ahead we will continue negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with our players’ association and will be concluding a new officials development agreement with the NHL, which will phase in the two-referee system to our league. We are also working on several new broadcast partnerships for 2010-11 and putting the finishing touches on our 75th anniversary celebration plans.
We have been able to take pride in a number of milestones this year. More than 85 percent of NHL players are now AHL graduates, more than 350 players in our league were recalled this year and saw action in the NHL and several of our recent grads played significant roles in the Stanley Cup playoffs. P.K. Subban, Braydon Coburn, Michael Leighton, Dustin Byfuglien, Antti Niemi, Duncan Keith and so many others endorsed the value of a solid apprenticeship in our league. For the fourth year in a row, both Stanley Cup finalist coaches were former AHL coaches and all of the referees selected to the final had previously worked the Calder Cup final.
Our coaches continue to be in demand with Scott Arniel, Guy Boucher and John MacLean recently hired as NHL bench bosses, following the recent footsteps of Bruce Boudreau, Cory Clouston, Dan Bylsma, Joe Sacco and Davis Payne, among others.
After a really good year, the summer is upon us; I’m sure we are all looking forward to recharging the batteries in preparation for next season. Mine will be recharged in Nova Scotia and I can think of no better place to reconnect with family and friends. All the best to THN fans and have a great summer!
Dave Andrews is the American League’s CEO and president, roles he has held since 1994. A goalie during his playing days, his administrative hockey career has included stops as the Edmonton Oilers’ director of AHL operations, senior consultant with SportCanada, and head coach and director of hockey operations for the Western League’s Victoria Cougars. You can read his other THN.com Blogs HERE.