Trois-Rivières is getting an ECHL team. That’s been the easy part compared to everything else that needs to happen.
“We are only ten months away from puck drop,” said team president Mark Weightman in an interview with Eyes On The Prize, “and I’ve already started talking about it in those terms. There is already a sense of urgency leading up to October, 2021.”
Right now, it’s merely a question of waiting for several procedural steps to occur — not if, but when — for the team to become official. “Obviously, there’s no reason to expect anything but positive results once the vote actually takes place,” said Weightman. “But it’s important for us to go through the appropriate process.”
The board of governors of the ECHL will be voting in the near future, which is the final step in the process of formalizing the franchise, following the ownership and the city finalizing their arena lease deal.
Following due process is obviously important when establishing professional ties as a sign of respect, and that’s why there have not been any forward-facing declarations made by the organization, but you can certainly read between the lines with the hiring of Weightman and Marc-André Bergeron that things are well under way in Trois-Rivières.
If you consider what needs to be accomplished in those ten months, you start getting a sense of the immense task to start off a franchise: Choose a name, a logo, a colour, a jersey, start a season-ticket drive, find corporate sponsors, hire a coach, sign players, and, of course, sign an affiliation agreement with an NHL team. The organization has a critical path for all of these things. “Some of those are moving targets because we’re not always in control of all the elements, but we want to find a name by late January, early February.”
Fans will have the opportunity to have a say in a very important part in the creation of this team. They recently opened a contest to find a name, similar to the way the Laval Rocket got their name. You can participate by following this link.
Beyond the productizing of the new team, there is a whole secondary level of market education that needs to occur.
The ECHL is essentially an unknown product in Quebec, so it is not known how the people will react. However, we can draw parallels with the introduction of the Newfoundland Growlers in St. John’s. When the Growlers were announced, the overall impression of the people there was that this was some sort of senior-league team, almost a glorified beer league. The Growlers worked hard to try and overcome this lack of understanding of the product, and two years into their grassroots campaign have seen some progress. Trois-Rivières has already begun such a campaign of their own to educate the fanbase.
“There’s a wide variety of answers that we get when we ask people in the street that question. A lot of it depends on their hockey knowledge. There are some very knowledgeable people in Québec when it comes to hockey. Clearly, one of our first objectives is to educate fans about what the ECHL is. And for those of them that may have known what the ECHL was, then there are a lot of great stories to share as to how the ECHL has evolved greatly over the last 15 to 20 years. When Laval got a team, the AHL was very unknown as well, so it will be the same challenges.”
“The ECHL has transformed itself tremendously in recent years, and it is still being transformed as it becomes aligned with the three-tiered developmental system that I predict very soon all NHL teams will have. With baseball you have AAA, AA, and even single-A developmental teams aligned with the major-league team. Very soon, you’re going to have 32 teams in the NHL all aligned with their own ECHL affiliate. There are 26 teams today, we will be the 27th, and there’s more coming in very shortly as well.
“So getting people to know what the league is about, and the quality of play in the developmental process. players that are in this league, maybe dispel a little bit of that perception of what the ECHL may have been 20 to 30 years ago, as far as a little bit more of a rough and tumble league, and not as professional a business as it is today. I think it’s one of our more fun challenges of educating people and introducing this new league to Québec.”
Throughout the ECHL, teams are named after the provinces (e.g.. Newfoundland) or states (e.g. Idaho, South Carolina, Maine, Florida, etc...) that they play in, but Weightman ensures that his team will be for Trois-Rivières first.
“It’s a beautiful city that’s booming, and it’s got a lot of new things to offer. You know, with everything down on the waterfront, and the new amphitheater they have, and of course the new Colisée. So the objective is to be part of the pride and joy of the city. Clearly, our market is going to be the greater Mauricie region. And ultimately, all of Québec.”
“I said this a couple of times now: the Habs are Québec’s NHL team, the Rocket — and that was our objective — is to be Québec’s AHL team. Well, guess what? Our plan, of course, will be for Trois-Rivières to be Québec’s ECHL team.”
The right affiliation will certainly help in creating that overall presentation as well, but Weightman did say that regardless of the affiliation they go with, their mandate will remain the same.
Trois-Rivières should have no problems finding local players to fill their ranks to build that reputation because they will have access to two feeder leagues: the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and USports university hockey, where there will be lots of players who could be more than willing to try their luck at professional hockey while staying close to home.
“There is a rung missing on the ladder for young Quebecers to make their way up to the NHL. A lot of players get drafted out of the Q, obviously, straight to the AHL or NHL. But others maybe fell off the radar because they had injuries in their draft year, or maybe they were small-sized players who were ignored, and want to prove people wrong down the road.
“Right now, players like that are the late-bloomer who end up having to export themselves to other leagues in Europe, or other ECHL teams far from home. Sometimes that becomes a barrier for a player thinking, ‘do I have a shot? Do I not bother?’ So we want to be able to kind of remedy that situation by giving those players coming out of the Q who got overlooked that extra year of development, that extra chance to prove that they really deserve their shot, the opportunity to move up to the AHL, and hopefully to the NHL, and doing it right here in our backyard.
“There’s a long long list of players that have done that, but they’ve had to go elsewhere. Well, we want to be able to have them play in front of their family and friends here at home.”