Preface to Gone But Not Forgotten
Dave Andrew’s impact on the American Hockey League truly transcends the game.
I was asked to write a series of articles for Brunswick News for the final year of hockey the Moncton Coliseum.
On a whim, I called the AHL’s office and asked to speak with Dave Andrews.
My call was transferred to their com’s and within forty-five minutes, Dave Andrews called me.
I was driving home from school that day and couldn’t pull over a narrow rural road and didn’t have my Ipad with me, which at the time was the only way I recorded audio.
I apologized like four times in that brief exchanged.
“No problem Craig, just give me a call when you get home,” Andrews said.
When I got home I ran upstairs and called.
For roughly fifteen minutes, Andrews gave me gold on the history of the American Hockey League and its impact on the Maritimes.
The following year I had the honor and privilege to meet and interview Andrews in his hometown of Digby, Nova Scotia for the Maritime NHLer’s For Kids.
Andrews was set to retire at the end of the season.
In his final season at the helm of the second best professional hockey league in the world, Dave Andrews made arguably the most difficult decision of his career cancelling the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.
It’s a sad day for the American Hockey League.
A sad day for hockey, but it’s an end of an era for an extraordinary ambassador for o the game.
Dave Andrew’s impact on the game of hockey will never soon be forgotten.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Whispers of the American Hockey League still linger.
But the history books, banners and indelible memories are all that remain of an exciting time in Moncton hockey history. “There is great history in Atlantic Canada with the American League and we are very proud of it,” said Dave Andrews, who has served as the circuit’s president and chief executive officer since 1994.
“The Atlantic Division back then from the early 80’s to the mid 90’s was essentially half of the American League,” said Andrews.
“At one point there, we had all the major cities in the Maritimes and Newfoundland. We had a lot of teams and it was a tight little travel circuit, it was mostly the Canadian based NHL franchises that had their affiliates there, it really worked well,” explained Andrews.
“If you look at the history of our league and National Hockey League, and all of the players that came through the AHL in the Maritimes, it’s a big part of people’s lives and a big part of the story of our game,” added Andrews.
Indeed, the AHL embodied the Maritimes, and you might say the reverse was true as well, as the Maritimes embodied the AHL.
For 16 years the region’s hub witnessed the highs and lows of hockey’s top minor professional league.
From players on their way to stardom, to aging veterans wanting one final shot at ‘The Show’, the AHL offered fans a unique perspective inside the world of professional puck.
These were the days long before the saturation of social media and 24-hour sports television stations. As Eddie Shore would say, this was old-time hockey, where folks followed their team’s road games on the radio, and when they walked into the friendly confines of the Moncton Coliseum on a cold, wintry night, they knew they were watching hockey in its purest, and sometimes most primitive, sense.
“The hockey was extremely competitive in those days,” Andrews said.
“Even then, it was the second-best league in the world with really quality players.”
The AHL epitomized the blue-collar mentality of the region in an era where hard work and pride meant everything. The AHL was the factory worker, the mechanic, the carpenter.
It exemplified the values that those fans believed in. People worked hard during the day and they wanted to see their club do the same at night.
And if that tenacity generated the odd bench-clearing brawl, well, so be it.
The American Hockey League quickly gained momentum and popularity by forging unforgettable Maritime rivalries, which are still etched in the annals of time.
The atmosphere was electric in the Coliseum, as fans lived and died with every shift of momentum.
AHL hockey was theatre on ice.
The loyal patrons spent their hard-earned cash on season tickets, concessions and memorabilia. It was their brand of family entertainment, which seldom disappointed.
Bruce Boudreau, Darryl Sutter, Steve Larmer, Gary Roberts, Brett Hull and Mike Vernon all got their start on Coliseum ice.
Legendary coaches Orval Tessier, Pierre Page, Terry Crisp, Ed Johnston and Rick Bowness cut their teeth behind the bench in Moncton.
Unfortunately, as the old axiom reminds us, all good things must come to an end.
“Things really changed with the decline of the Canadian dollar at the time and the impact that had on the Canadian-based NHL teams,” said Andrews.
“They were eager to find some way to reduce their player development costs and one of the ways they saw in doing that was relocating American Hockey League teams to larger markets, to see greater return on their investment,” Andrews added.
“Slowly but surely our Atlantic Division really got decimated with teams leaving the area, but it was a very good time in the American League.”
“I really enjoyed my time going through Moncton and the ownership group at the time with Gary O’Neil and their commitment to the league was really significant.”
The American Hockey League has significantly changed since the glory days of the past three decades in Atlantic Canada.
“The history is amazing,” said Andrews. “Since that time we have become a much younger and energetic league. I think the challenge that we had at that time was that the American league was an older league,” explained Andrews.
“The quality of play was really good and it was physical and appealing to fans. We saw a decline in some markets based on the quality of the product at that time,” Andrews added.
“I regularly talk to people that were involved in those days with the Hawks and that championship team, similarly with the Nova Scotia Voyagers, Cape Breton Oilers winning a Cup and of course the Saint John Flames,” Andrews said.
From Calder Cup glory in 1982 to the sad end in 1994 the American Hockey League will always hold a special place in the heart of Monctonians and all of the Maritimes.
The New Brunswick Hawks, Golden Flames, Alpines and Moncton Hawks, all left an unforgettable impression on the Atlantic region that still lives on in the memories, record books and photos of an era of hockey that truly captivated the essence of the game.