PRINCETON, N.J. – ECHL.com asked some members of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association Executive Committee and ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna for their thoughts on the new three-year Collective Bargaining Agreement between the ECHL and the PHPA, and the addition of nine new markets, including six from the former West Coast Hockey League.
“I think we came to a deal that both sides are happy with and can live with,” said Stefan Rivard, who helped lead Atlantic City to the 2003 Kelly Cup Championship. “There was an overwhelming agreement from the side of the players based on what they (the ECHL) proposed to us, and we’re just happy that it’s over and done with, and now we can all focus on playing hockey.”
“The new CBA is going to help both sides,” said Steffon Walby, who is returning for his third season as Captain of Mississippi. “The best thing for hockey is that the deal was finalized, and the ECHL will continue to give younger players a chance to develop.”
“The deal is good for both sides, and it is tough to make everyone happy in a situation like this,” said Brent Bilodeau, the Captain for Johnstown who returns for his fifth season with the Chiefs. “Now we can put all the distractions aside and prepare for the 2003-04 season which is going to be exciting not only for the fans, but for the players with all of the new teams.”
“I am encouraged by the comments made by many of our players,” said McKenna. “It is time for all of us to work together to continue to build and strengthen our league.”
“It’s an exciting time to be involved with the ECHL,” said Walby, who was named First Team All-ECHL for the second consecutive season in 2002-03. “The new teams will be great for the league and they have already brought extra attention to the ECHL. The new rivalries are going to be a lot of fun and we’re looking forward to them.”
“From a geographic perspective, it’s definitely going to be an exciting league this season. We’re going to get to see a part of the country that we’ve never seen before, and some players that we’ve only known by name,” said Rivard, who returns as Captain of the Boardwalk Bullies. “I also think that adding more teams to the league is going to make our job repeating as Kelly Cup Champions even tougher because we know that on any given night, a new team is coming after us, hoping to knock off the champs.”
“The 2003-04 season promises to be the most exciting ever,” said McKenna. “Nine new teams, a national presence and a heightened level of competition will make for top-notch entertainment for our fans.”
The ECHL opens its 16th season on October 17 with 31 teams in 17 states and welcomes nine new markets, including six from the former West Coast Hockey League, with the addition of the Alaska Aces, the Bakersfield Condors, the Fresno Falcons, the Gwinnett (Georgia) Gladiators, the Idaho (Boise) Steelheads, the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Long Beach Ice Dogs, the San Diego Gulls, and the Texas (Beaumont) Wildcatters.