AHL names winners of excellence awards

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews has announced that the league has named the 2013-14 recipients of several awards for excellence and service to the league.

The announcements came Wednesday evening at a gala reception during the Board of Governors’ Annual Meeting at Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Utica Comets president Robert Esche and Rockford IceHogs executive director Gordon Kaye have been selected as co-winners of the James C. Hendy Memorial Award, given to the outstanding executive in the American Hockey League for 2013-14.

Without the benefits of a large, modern arena, Esche quickly took a market that had been without AHL hockey for two decades and revitalized it. Under his guidance, the Comets became the talk of the town, hosting 17 sellouts at the refurbished Aud and playing to more than 90 percent capacity for the season. Esche and his staff emphasized the organization’s place in the community and embraced the city’s rich history of professional hockey in making the Comets’ inaugural season a great success.

Kaye, who joined the IceHogs in 2010, continued to turn around the organization’s fortunes this season through his tireless work ethic and commitment to making Rockford a great AHL market. The IceHogs have set franchise attendance records in three of Kaye’s four seasons managing their operations (including 2013-14), while also seeing increased revenues in sponsorship sales, premium seating and merchandise. Kaye has also overseen upgrades to the BMO Harris Bank Center that have made the arena a destination for events beyond IceHogs hockey as well.

The James C. Hendy Award is named for the late Jim Hendy, a Hockey Hall of Famer and long-time statistician and historian for the AHL who won four Calder Cups as general manager of the original Cleveland Barons.

Syracuse Crunch owner Howard Dolgon was honored with the Thomas Ebright Award in recognition of career contributions to the AHL. The longest-tenured individual ownership in the league, Dolgon and the Crunch marked their 20th anniversary in 2013-14 and remain at the forefront of innovative marketing ideas and practices. Dolgon has been chairman of both the Executive Committee and the Marketing Committee for the AHL, and thanks to his bold creativity and tireless passion, he continues to bring positive exposure to the Crunch organization, the Syracuse community and the American Hockey League.

The Thomas Ebright Award honors Tom Ebright, the former owner and governor of the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates who passed away in 1997.

The St. John’s IceCaps and Travis Morin of the Texas Stars were named the 2013-14 winners of the President’s Awards.

Selling out every game at Mile One Centre for the third consecutive season, the St. John’s IceCaps continued to be a leader in overall business success in 2013-14. The IceCaps continued to excel in areas like fan experience, game presentation and social media, and they remain a cornerstone in the local community through their community relations efforts as well. The IceCaps were outstanding hosts for the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Assante Wealth Management, and on the ice the team reached their first Calder Cup Finals while also seeing nine players advance to the National Hockey League with the parent Winnipeg Jets.

In his seventh pro season, Travis Morin had a career year in 2013-14, leading the AHL in scoring in both the regular season and the Calder Cup Playoffs and becoming just the second player ever to earn regular-season and playoff MVP honors in the same campaign. A member of the Texas Stars since their inaugural season in 2009-10, Morin scored a career-high 32 goals and racked up 88 points – double his total from the previous season – while helping the Stars to the best regular-season record in the league, and he capped his 22-point playoff performance by scoring three game-winning goals – including two in overtime – during the 2014 Calder Cup Finals. Morin also appeared in four games with the parent Dallas Stars in 2013-14, picking up an assist for his first career NHL point.

The President’s Awards are given to an AHL organization for overall excellence, and to an AHL player in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in the past year.

Veteran linesman Jim Vail has been named the 2013-14 recipient of the Michael Condon Memorial Award for outstanding contributions by an on-ice official. Based in St. John’s, Vail has been an integral member of the league’s officiating staff since 1991, working hundreds of games including the AHL All-Star Game and the Calder Cup Finals this past season.

The Michael Condon Memorial Award was created in 2002 following the sudden passing of veteran AHL linesman Mike Condon.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 13th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America in 2013-14.