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Daniel Briere on starting up an ECHL franchise, his future in management (PHT Q&A)

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It didn’t take long for Danny Briere to get back into hockey following his August 2015 retirement. Two months later, he was working for the Philadelphia Flyers learning the ropes of management under the guidance of Paul Holmgren.

That experience prepped him for the next step in his post-playing career: management.

This past summer, Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the Flyers, bought the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, who were ceasing operations, and moved them to Portland and renamed them the Maine Mariners. Briere was named vice president of hockey operations and has been helping the franchise get prepared for its start for the 2018-19 season.

Portland had AHL hockey as recently as two years ago, but the Pirates were sold and moved to Springfield, Mass., which caught many in the community by surprise. Briere and his staff have been working to re-connect with the fanbase. They also now have a head coach after hiring Riley Armstrong. And while the franchise is owned by Comcast Spectacor, the Mariners are not affiliated with the Flyers or any NHL team at the moment.

We recently spoke to Briere about his move into management, what a day in his life looks like now and his future working in hockey.

Enjoy.

Q. How did this opportunity with Mariners come about?

BRIERE: “I always had a good relationship with Paul Holmgren. He’s the one who signed me with the Flyers when I was a free agent back in 2007. After I retired he approached me and gave me the opportunity to get involved on the business side with the Flyers, kind of learning a different facet of the organization that I didn’t know much or anything about. It’s been amazing. It’s really gotten me out of my comfort zone. At first, I was completely clueless to what was going on around me, but they have amazing people in the office that have helped me learn the business side and feeling more and more comfortable every day. It’s been a fun challenge; very uncomfortable at times, but that all started with Paul Holmgren bringing me aboard and giving me the chance to learn first-hand how it works behind closed doors.”

What are your duties now and will they change once the franchise is up and running next fall?

“I followed Paul around for a couple of years, along with [Flyers Chief Operating Officer, Alternate Governor] Shawn Tilger, they’ve been great at integrating me on the business side. When this opportunity came and Comcast Spectacor, who owns the Flyers, bought this ECHL franchise, Paul and Shawn approached me about running the business side of the hockey department for that franchise. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get my toes wet a little bit, to learn first-hand and really move forward to make my own decisions a little bit. It’s not just about following and seeing how things work, but now I have a little bit more of a say and I have to make decisions. It’s been great. I don’t know moving forward what the deal will be. I’m just kind of running with this at this point and trying to make the best of it and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Run me through a typical day for you as you’re getting things up and running?

“It’s checking in with the people up in Maine at this point. Because we don’t have a hockey team going, it’s mostly building the front office, checking in with [vice president of business development] Adam Goldberg up there, making sure everything is working right, that he has all the tools to function. It’s trying to get our name out in the community in Portland, letting people know that we have the team coming back, trying to get people back on board. And also some stuff on the hockey department, especially here in the second half looking at hockey games, trying to find players that might be enticing to add to our group and to bring to Portland for next year.

“I think it’s a job that evolved because we’re starting from scratch. You’re building a front office, now we’re going to start building the hockey side and then we have to put the team together before we start playing. There’s different stages and we’re moving towards every stage so far without too many problems. It’s been good. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s a role that evolves as we moved forward.”

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after playing?

“No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’ve always liked the finance field. It’s something that I was always drawn into from an early age. But I also had no clue how much involvement it entailed [working in an] organization, how much work needed to be done on the business side. When I played I was worried about meetings on the teams I was going to face, on the power play we were going to bring up that night, the goalies I was going to face, the defensemen. So I had no idea how many people it needed, how much work needed to be done to get a game ready, to get people in the stands, to get advertising for a franchise to function. It’s been really cool to see a different side of hockey that I didn’t know much about.”

Do you see this as a first step into NHL management someday?

“Honestly, I hope so, but at this point I’m not looking too much forward. I want to enjoy what’s going on now. I’m having a blast, I’m having fun with this. I’m trying to soak it all in as much as I can to get some experience. It’s not very often that you have the chance to start an organization from scratch. We saw Vegas do it last year and they’ve been extremely successful, so they’re a good example as well. But it doesn’t happen very often. I’m trying to gather as much experience and information as I can as I’m going through it. I believe that moving forward it’s probably going to benefit me. It’s probably going to help me moving forward. That’s the way I see it, but I don’t have any long-term goals that I’m trying to get to or achieve. I’m just trying to enjoy this as much as I can and make this team and this franchise as successful as we can.”

What’s the response been like from the Portland community about the franchise coming back?

“It’s been good. I feel like the people in Portland have been burned a few years ago with what happened and the team leaving at the last second. We’re trying to make them believe in us, make them believe that we’re there for the long haul, it’s not a one-and-done. Because it’s such a big organization that Comcast Spectacor is, we’re serious about putting a good, solid organization there. But I have the feeling that they’ve been without hockey for a couple of seasons now and I feel like they are excited about this team coming back in their community and I’m hoping that people reach out and really decide to support it. We want that as well. We want to include the fans as much as possible. We want it to be their team and be there for the long haul, kind of like the old Maine Mariners, the reputation that they built over the year, we’re hoping it goes back to that and they can look at their team and be proud of the Maine Mariners, just like they were of the old Maine Mariners. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Saturday night’s alright for an ECHL brawl (Video)

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We got a doozy here.

A line brawl between the Toledo Walleye and the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL went down in the second half of the third period in a 5-0 romp by the Walleye on Saturday night in Toledo.

And yes, there was a solid goalie scrap to boot.

Here’s how the fun began:

And here are both goalies — Mason McDonald of the Mavericks in red and Matej Machovsky of the Walleye in blue — doing their best Chris Osgood, Patrick Roy impression.

The end result included 84 penalty minutes assessed on 12 calls, including four game misconducts, four fighting majors and a slew of other infractions.

The game ended with a total of 139 penalty minutes on 24 calls.

Here’s a breakdown from the box score:

  • Klotz KC (match – cross-checking), 12:14
  • Kwas KC (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • McDonald KC (leaving the crease, fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Smith KC (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Crisp TOL (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Machovsky TOL (leaving the crease, fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Tansey TOL (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14

It didn’t end there, either. Two more fights and another game misconduct were handed out with 30 seconds remaining in the game.

Here’s Roy vs. Osgood, for old times’ sake.

Holy jumpin’.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Teddy Bear Toss season and the fur has already been flying (Video)

Bakersfield Condors
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, the holidays are upon us, but it’s also Teddy Bear Toss season!

The Teddy Bear Toss is a promotion that has been done by many teams at various levels of hockey for years. While we wait for the kings of the event, the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, to host theirs on Dec. 10, a slew of tosses took place recently and boy, did the fur fly.

• Let’s start in Bakersfield, California where Brad Malone’s shorthanded goal helped the American Hockey League’s Condors to a 7-3 win over the San Antonio Rampage. Malone’s goal also signaled the 8,862 fans — the franchise’s fifth-largest attendance ever — to send their teddy bears flying.

Here’s their multi-angle view via Adam Beck of the Condors:

The final total was a team record 10,549 stuffed animals, which will help nearly 50 local organizations. The all-time count after 19 years of holding the event is 121,395.

• Next up we have the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, who saw approximately 4,000 stuffed animals hit the ice to benefit Hug-a-Bears of Kent County.

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• A six-game point streak came to an end for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers over the weekend, but the fans at WesBanco Arena got to toss their bears following Garret Meurs’ first period goal.

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• Like I said, many different levels of hockey partake in this great tradition. Here’s the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Estevan Bruins getting in on the act to help out the Salvation Army:

• The Children’s Miracle Network were one of the charities who benefitted from the Quad City Mallards’ event:

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• Ben Berard got the BCHL’s Powell River Kings fans out of their seats to send their bears flying:

• The event has even gone international with the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany taking part:

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Pretty fun time, right? If you thought those were cool wait until you see what the fans in Calgary do next month when the Hitmen hold their annual Toss night. Last year they sent 23,924 stuffed animals to the ice, which was amazing but not close to the record they set in 2015 with a total count of 28,815.

Calgary Hitmen

That’s a lot of bears and a lot of soon-to-be very happy kids.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

ECHL team to celebrate ‘Mighty Ducks’ trilogy with three different jerseys (Photo)

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the legendary Mighty Ducks movies, the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones will pay tribute to Gordon Bombay’s squad in a very special way.

During the Cyclones’ Jan. 27 game against the Fort Wayne Komets, the team will wear three separate jerseys that were worn by the likes of Charlie Conway, Adam Banks, Julie “The Cat” Gaffney and, of course, Goldberg the goalie.

The first period will see the Cyclones don the Mighty Ducks’ jerseys worn when they beat the Hawks (Sorry, Jack Reilly!) for the state pee wee title. During the middle period they’ll wear the Team USA jerseys from the Junior Goodwill Games in D2: The Mighty Ducks, and the final 20 minutes we’ll get to relive the victory over Iceland and Gunnar Stahl from D2, as well as the final movie in the trilogy with the design that eventually launched an NHL team. (The pig on the third period jersey is Puckchop, the team’s secondary mascot who was introduced in 2015.

The three sets of jerseys, which were designed by Jeff Tasca and Athletic Knit, will be auctioned after the game to benefit the Cincinnati Cyclones Foundation.

There could also be some other Mighty Ducks-related fun that night which the team is still working on. Our thought? How about a Fulton Reed/Dean Portman Bash Brothers bobblehead? And if it were up to us, we’d turn this into a Rock N’ Jock style game and allow knuckle puck goals to be worth two.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

‘Best in the business’: Jersey designer ups game on unique looks

Jeff Tasca / Instagram
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One of the fun things about minor league hockey is their commitment to creating unique promotions to draw attention to teams or charitable ventures. One of those ways is getting creative with themed jersey nights, which usually end up benefiting charity through post-game auctions.

Many of the interesting jersey designs worn by teams from the AHL to ECHL to USHL and others have been the handiwork of Jeff Tasca and his team at Athletic Knit in Toronto.

For the last 12 years, Tasca and his crew, which has grown from him and an assistant to 14 people, have designed jerseys that have brought mainstream attention, including at least one that ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Just look at some of the designs they’ve worked up.

Batman and Robin, used by the Toledo Walleye and Evansville IceMen 

Muskegon Lumberjacks’ Beach Night

Cincinnati Cyclones Superhero Night

Reading Royals ugly Christmas sweater

Utah Grizzlies Halloween skeleton

Chicago Express St. Patrick’s Day pint o’beer

Those are just a few of the several hundred Tasca and his crew have created over the years. So where do the ideas come from?

“It does kind of depend on what comes into my head sometimes,” Tasca told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “A lot of times it kind of depends on what kind of day I’m having and how many ideas pop into my head that day. Also, too, time. If it ends where it’s something that is a little bit shorter notice, I’ll do one and then just hear their feedback on that and go from there.”

The design process usually begins in August or September when teams will approach Athletic Knit with their promotional schedules for the season. Sometimes teams will have an idea for a jersey matching whatever theme they’re planning and other times they’ll let Tasca have full control over how the final product looks.

Information is important, right down to the little details. If you’re creating a Star Wars jersey, which Athletic Knit has done many times, you better get every aspect correct. Luckily for Tasca, he’s a Star Wars and comic book fan, so he’s the perfect designer to make sure every look is authentic.

Tasca studied design and illustration in high school and college. After freelancing for a few years, he heard that Athletic Knit was hiring people to help design sports jerseys. It seemed like the perfect fit.

“I love watching sports. I played a few sports and also, too, it’s bringing elements of designing into,” he said. “So I’m like hey why don’t I go check it out.”

He started in the sublimation department, knowing nothing about garment design. After a big learning curve, which included the sewers constantly being annoyed that his designs didn’t work with what they had to do, he figured out his limits from the manufacturing side.

Now Tasca and his team handle everything in the design process: from creating the logo to getting the proper art work to preparing the jersey for sublimation or screen printing. With proper notice, they can get a team’s set of jerseys done from anywhere between two and four weeks.

Athletic Knit works with between 20-25 hockey teams per season, mostly from the ECHL, but they also produce jerseys for teams in almost a dozen other sports. Hockey, though, is their big one when it comes to unique looks for theme nights.

Gregg Lewis, who handles merchandising and sales for the ECHL’s Reading Royals, worked with Tasca to create the original ugly Christmas sweater jerseys back in 2013. They’ve since collaborated on a handful more, including this week’s Halloween looks for the Royals and the Allen Americans.

“Jeff is the best in the business. He is the most creative and blends colors great,” said Lewis. “The jerseys are all works of art.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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