By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
Copyright © 2005
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In his third season as commissioner of the ECHL, Brian McKenna can hardly keep the smile off his face.
As he prepared to watch Game 4 of the best-of-seven American Conference Finals between the Florida Everblades and Charlotte Checkers at Cricket Arena, McKenna marveled at how for the second straight year the league has managed to produce memorable playoffs. The Alaska Aces and Trenton Titans are playing in the National Conference Finals.
“We’ve got four obviously very competitive teams in very competitive markets going in our conference championships, which is good,” McKenna said. “We had the same thing last year as well. We’re seeing some great hockey on the ice, and we’re seeing very good attendance.
“Our numbers are going to be up again this year over last year the way we’re tracking, and we had a huge increase last year over the prior year. So I think from that point of view, yeah, we are happy with the way things are shaking down. I’m sure that’s going to continue through the balance of the conference finals and through to the league finals.”
Even though Alaska Aces forward Scott Gomez is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a fractured pelvis, McKenna can’t say enough for how much the four-time NHL All-Star has done for the league.
Gomez, who tied for the lead in assists in the NHL last year for the New Jersey Devils, was the ECHL’s scoring leader during the regular season. His hometown is Anchorage, Alaska and he jumped at the chance to play for the Aces and with some of his good friends. He has maintained that enthusiasm since suffering the injury late in Game 4 of the first round at the Bakersfield Condors.
“There’s no question he has been a great ambassador for our league this year,” said McKenna, who still wonders how big the crowds would have been in Trenton had Gomez been playing in the conference finals. “He lives in the team apartments, he travels with the guys on the road and has lent his moral support since being injured, but obviously had he been on the ice right now that would be even better for the league.”