A few days ago, the Wild announced a new ECHL affiliation with the Bakersfield Condors. At that time, all we knew about the team was that they were in California, and that both sides were excited about the new relationship. We knew that the relationship with the old ECHL affiliate, the Johnstown Chiefs, was tenuous at best, which made us question what this new relationship meant for the Wild and for Wild fans.
I reached out to the Condors, and specifically to Kevin Bartl, the Condors' VP of Communications to get a bit more information on the team and what it all means.
Make the jump, learn something.
Hockey Wilderness: The Wild had an affiliation with the Johnstown Chiefs last season, yet prospects being moved away from the Houston Aeros (such as Barry Brust and Brandon Buck) typically ended up with the Florida Everblades. Is this trend expected to continue, or is there a more firm understanding that players would go to Bakersfield?
Kevin Bartl: We're not really concerned with what happened in past seasons; this is our first season working with the Wild and we're thrilled to be part of their system.
It is certainly understandable that the Condors don't want to focus on what was done in the past. It certainly boggled my mind a bit when the Aeros sent players to a non-affiliated team, but the intricacies of minor league hockey still escape me. Loaning players to opposing minor league clubs, etc. I'm sure it all makes sense to them, but being of an NHL mindset, it is confusing to me.
HW: Have the Wild given any indication of players that may be on their way to Bakersfield, or will that determination be made after training camp in Houston?
KB: That information has yet to be determined specifically, but as of right now we are expecting anywhere from one to four players from the Wild.
Most likely, this gets determined at Aeros camp. Obviously, the Wild will have a ton of input on any players with NHL contracts, but believe it or not, there are players that the Aeros sign that have no ties to the Wild. I know, right? These are the players that could potentially head to Bakerfield. It will be interesting to see the interaction of two way players between ECHL and AHL.
HW: Moving away from decision that may most likely be made by the Wild / Aeros, who are the players to watch already on the roster?
KB: Recent signees Bobby Robins and Jason Lepine are two players we're looking forward to seeing in Bakersfield this season. Robins is a physical forward who has sinificant time in the AHL, while Leoine appears to be a young player on the rise. He also earned stints in the AHL last season, and led his team in points among blueliners. LW Mika Suoraniemi is a Finnish product we signed earlier in the summer who is a veteran influence. He comes from a great hockey family and will definitely hold a leadership role on our team.
Robins comes in at 6' 1" 220 lbs. with some solid AHL level experience. He spent last two seasons in Europe, and is likely hungry to make a impact after coming back across the pond.
Leoine is smallish for a defenseman at 5'10" 185 lbs, but as Kevin mentioned, he led his defensive corps in points with 11 goals & 33 assists. That earned him five games in the AHL, and if he keeps up those numbers may earn him some extended time.
Suoraniemi... a Finnish product. We all know how much the Wild hate Finnish prospects, right? 6'1" 180 lbs is good size, but he is 30 years old, so his potential upside may be limited to earning some time in the AHL. HIs brother Niko played two years at Bemidji State, so there is a Minnesota connection, Kevin Bacon style. He averages in the mid-thirty point range in nearly every league he has skated in.
HW: Are there any players with Minnesota ties, if so who, and what are their ties?
KB: Defenseman Jay Cascalenda is a second year defenseman we have signed; he played four seasons at UM-Duluth. Our head coach, Marty Raymond has spoken several Minnesota natives over the summer, but we'll have to wait and see if any of them end up signing with us.
KB: None yet.
KB: We won the Pacific Division title last season and have advanced to the second round of the playoffs in three of the last five years, while off the ice we have claimed numerous front office awards over the years and are perennially among minor league hockey attendance leaders.
KB: We're looking forward to a productive relationship with Minnesota and excited to have a few players assigned to us that they feel have talent and potential. Over the last two seasons we've moved 22 players to the AHL or NHL, so we're confident that Bakersfield is a place that Wild prospects can mature and learn to become productive professionals. We're grateful they are entrusting us with the responsibility to help build their organization.
22 players moved up? That is a very good sign. The number of players that move from ECHL to NHL is not a huge percentage, but 22 players in two seasons moving to the NHL or AHL is a good number. I think "confident" is the right word here. It has already been proven, now it is just a matter of putting some players in there to develop.
We want to thank Kevin for taking the time out to answer our questions. Hockey Wilderness will be keeping tabs on the Condors throughout the year, bringing you the latest news on any prospects of note and on the team in general. We, too, look forward to a productive relationship between the Condors and Wild organization.