Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison came through the Tri-Cities on Thursday night to check out the improvements going on in the Toyota Center, watch some hockey and talk to the media.
Robison, hired by the league’s owners in 2000 to be commissioner, has liked what he’s seen at the Kennewick facility, which is more than 30 years old.
Last year, the city of Kennewick met with the Tri-City Americans and Toyota Center officials to see how they could all agree on improving the arena and satisfy some of the demands the WHL had to bring it to league quality.
That included building a new $3.2 million ice plant – which should be completed this summer. It will help improve the quality of the ice sheets in both the Toyota Center and Toyota Arena next door.
The money comes from Kennewick’s capital improvement budget.
“It’s extremely important to give credit to the city of Kennewick, the people at the Toyota Center, namely Corey Pearson, and the Americans, for coming together,” said Robison. “It’s been a requirement of the league to improve the facilities, to have new amenities like safety features.”
Such as new rink boards.
“We are using the acrylic rink boards that the NHL adopted,” said Robison. “The lighting in the facility is new.”
Robison said that’s important for fans to see better, as well as for video.
“And we’re hoping for a new video system,” he added. That would include video replay for fans in the arena for key plays.
“We’re concentrating on technology right now,” Robison added.
If Robison had a wish list for the Toyota Center: “I’d like to see further upgrades in new seating and new suites.”
Robison talked about the Tri-Cities franchise, and how important it is to the rest of the league.
“The Tri-Cities is a central location,” Robison said. “Traveling teams from the Eastern Conference like to use Kennewick to launch off to other places when they travel through the US Division. And first of all, this franchise has been very competitive in this market. I look forward to it being a great franchise for years to come.”
There is no plan for expansion down the road, he added.
“Our ideal number for this league was 20 teams, and I think we over expanded,” he said, referring to the fact the WHL has 22 franchises.
One franchise is moving this offseason: The Kootenay Ice is moving from Cranbrook, B.C., to Winnipeg. That will give the WHL teams in three NHL markets next season: Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
And when the NHL’s new Seattle franchise begins play within the next few years, two more WHL teams – the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips – will be in an NHL market.
Robison likes that.
“Both franchises are well established in their markets,” said Robison.
“Interest in the game of hockey will pick up when the NHL team comes. And many people won’t be able to afford an NHL ticket.”
Other items Robison addressed:
• There have been a number of indefinite suspensions in the playoffs already. That’s a normal process, Robison said. “We were talking about this earlier today,” he said. “You’ve got rivalries, and part of it is the first round of the playoffs. When you focus on the ice, with the speed and the skill, things like that will happen. The intensity level raises.”
• The drop from 72 regular-season games to 68 this season has been deemed a success by Robison. “Reducing our schedule gave us more time for weekend games, and gave the players more time for their studies,” he said. “Most of them are student-athletes. And we think our teams do an outstanding job of developing our players in this league.”
Ams fall 2-0 to Everett in Game 4
Visiting Everett bounced back on Thursday night, beating the Tri-City Americans 3-0 at the Toyota Center to take a 3-1 series lead.
Silvertips goalie Dustin Wolf stopped all 24 Tri-City shots to earn a shutout.
Bryce Kindopp scored the Tips’ first goal at 12:34 in the first period on a power play. Teammate Max Patterson added another goal for Everett at 7:56 of the second period, while Zack Andrusiak completed the scoring with an empty-netter with 41 seconds left in the contest.
Beck Warm faced 38 Everett shots while in the net for Tri-City.
The Americans head to Everett on Saturday for Game 5. Puck drops at 7:05 p.m.