By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – After being rebuffed time and again over the past three seasons in a quest for a National Hockey League affiliation, the Bakersfield Condors finally found a willing suitor — the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks and Condors announced the affiliation Wednesday in a jam-packed news conference in the Flashco Board Room at Rabobank Arena. The Condors, who just completed their 10th season, have never been affiliated with an NHL team and were one of just three ECHL teams without an affiliation last season.
“This is a landmark announcement and I don’t think I’m overstating that,” Condors President Matthew Riley said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The Ducks, who were the 2007 NHL Stanley Cup champions, have been aligned with Augusta, Ga., on the ECHL level the past couple of seasons as their American Hockey League affiliate has been located in Portland, Maine. But the Ducks are looking to migrate west with their minor-league affiliations.
Anaheim is expected to relocate its AHL franchise to an undisclosed city closer to Anaheim at the end of the AHL season. Portland is playing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL Eastern Conference Finals series.
“The Samuelis (owners of the Ducks) want to have all our farms team eventually located in California,” said Brian Burke, Ducks executive vice president/general manager. “Our goal is to keep moving our team farther west in the American Hockey league and ultimately end up here.”
The AHL only has four teams west of the Mississippi and none west of the Rockies.
The ECHL, however, has numerous teams out West, including Fresno and Stockton, which Burke also visited in his quest to find an ECHL affiliate.
So what tipped the scales in favor of Bakersfield?
“We started with the ownership group and Jonathan Fleisig and were very comfortable with that, then the management group with Matt (Riley) and the coaches with Marty (Raymond),” Burke said. “Great fan base, great fan support, beautiful facility, great practice rink, proximity to Anaheim and it all added up. There were no negatives.
“This is where we wanted to be and we’re thrilled to be here.”
Riley said the Condors first made contact with Burke in December and negotiations, after Burke and owner representative Jillian Samueli visited on March 18, were “not laborious at all.”
That was in stark contrast to negotiations with Buffalo two summers ago that dragged on until just before the season started when the Condors were left at the altar.
The Ducks placed seven players in Augusta this season, and Burke said he expected the organization to place five to seven players in Bakersfield.
“We are committed to development,” he said. “We think development, spending money and committing coaching resources is very important to our future. We believe winning is a habit you can learn and losing is a habit you can acquire. We are committed to having competitive teams long before those players get to us.”
Condors coach Marty Raymond said he’s looking forward to working with the Ducks and the players they send to Bakersfield.
“I can’t tell you we’re going to win a championship with an affiliation but I can tell you my job has become easier because we will have kids here who are motivated and want to go to the next level,” Raymond said. “Brian Burke is a very straight shooter and he said it’s important for us to win and he wants to make sure we have the right guys to be successful. He’s not going to park players here just to park players.
“He’s going to put 5-7 guys here so we have to look for 14 great kids from our side. And he’s helping us out recruiting guys. We’ll be able to get some kids into rookie camp and the AHL camp and that’s big.”
Burke said it is tough for independent teams to compete in a league filled with affiliated teams.
“You’re going head to head with your own resources at the ECHL level to recruit players, identify players and get them to play there going head to head with NHL teams that might have 14-15 people in the scouting and development areas,” he said. “If we’ve done a good job of identifying talent we should be able to put some players in here that will make this team better. That’s certainly our intent and our goal.”
The affiliation agreement is for one year but Burke said he expects a long relationship between the two teams.
“We went one year at the outset because we think that’s a very prudent thing to do with two new dance partners,” he said. “It’s a sensible thing to do but our goal and intention is to be here a long time.”