Condors Hockey: Birds on Ice

Since 1998, the Bakersfield Condors have been bringing excitement to the ice in a way that only they can, and they have rightfully built up a loyal and strong fanbase. A recent shift in ownership has actually not only changed the division in which they’re placed, but may also open doors in many different aspects for Bakersfield, as well, further growing the bonds that they have already formed.

Matthew Riley, the team president for the Condors, explained the division change and the incredible impact it should have on how both the game and Bakersfield are perceived. “The new ownership of the Condors by the Edmonton Oilers happened January of 2014,” Riley started. “Previously, [the team was] owned by individuals out of the New York area for about fifteen years, though [we] ran the day to day operations without a lot of input from them. It was more of an independent team, but they were successful and they established themselves in the hockey world.” The Oilers were looking for a minor league affiliate, and the Condors were hot on their radar.

Matthew Riley
Matthew Riley

According to Riley, the Condors were previously part of the East Coast Hockey League (ECLU), which is a AA league. Once they teamed up with the Oilers, they were bumped up to what could be considered a AAA league. “The new division is one step below the NHL, where you see teams like the Sharks and Kings and Ducks,” he detailed. Now, as a part of the American Hockey League (AHL), new opportunities are afforded our boys on the ice, and the same can be said for the fans. “It is especially exciting from a fan’s perspective, even with the children, because you could be getting an autograph from your favorite player and then suddenly that same player is on a major league roster.”

That isn’t the end of the excitement, though, not by far, because, on an economic level, Bakersfield is sure to benefit from this change. In fact, there are signs that this is already transpiring. Not only have they been able to hire on more full time staff, but Riley has been approached by Oilers fans about coming to watch the Condors in action. “We have received a number of inquiries from Edmonton asking where they can watch the ‘future Oilers’ play,” he concluded. “While they’re here, they’re sure to be staying in hotels, dining at local restaurants, and doing other activities.”

Tim Shipton
Tim Shipton

Locals aren’t the only ones who have a reason to be enthused about the change, though. Tim Shipton, the vice president of communications with the Edmonton Oilers, was sure to relay that Bakersfield is being welcomed into the AHL with open and eager arms. “It was a really exciting transaction for the Oilers because the Bakersfield Condors have a great reputation in minor sports for being a very creative franchise,” Shipton began, noting the “crazy” on-ice promotions and stunts that are done to bring a lot of hype to the games. (Dance off on the rink or a coupon-yielding mini blimp, anyone?) “But they also have strong ties to the community, so we knew that Bakersfield would fit our overall philosophy of not only being strong on the ice, but also strong members of the community.” (To date, the Condors have had countless endeavors that have raised millions for local charities, so Shipton knows exactly what he is talking about.)

The shift that had taken place in minor league hockey shortly after the purchase of the team meant that the Condors are now in the number one development league in minor pro hockey. “Going into this first season,” Shipton assured, “there will be a better level of hockey with a deeper talent pool coming into Bakersfield. All of our developing players who need a bit of seasoning in minor league hockey will be headed there.” As a way to demonstrate just how phenomenal this is, he pointed out that statistics have shown that an astounding 90 percent of the players in the NHL were a part of the AHL prior. “It is akin to AAA baseball, where the players are almost ready to move to the big leagues and have a season or two of development and training to play first,” Shipton clarified.

Jason Chaimovitch
Jason Chaimovitch

The Oilers Nation, as Shipton put it, is comprised of a passionate group of individuals who he definitely can see coming to Bakersfield to catch the Condors in action. “We know that we are building off of a very strong foundation,” he confirmed. “The Bakersfield Condors being the primary development hub makes the city and franchise that much more important. All of the top prospects will be going through Bakersfield, so many names of young players who will go on to play very important roles with the organization and will be playing in the NHL will be heard there. These are all degrees of good for Bakersfield, and this means taking that next step as a city and a franchise.”

As yet another great side note to get all of the hockey fans reading this even more excited: both Shipton and Riley confirmed that some of the Condors’ facilities have been upgraded. Shipton elaborated, “We wanted to be sure that the facilities were up to snuff, so we completely remodeled the dressing room and training areas for the players. We also made capital investments in Rabobank, like installing new glass so the quality for the fans and the on-ice experience was as exciting as possible. We were happy we made that investment in Bakersfield.” (Riley noted that the hiring of contractors and subcontractors for these jobs, alone, was a “big shot in the arm of the local economy.”)

Shipton also made mention of the fact that they all felt very welcome here in Bakersfield. Much like most other folks who visit our fair city, the Edmonton Oilers were taken care of and were pleased with the hospitality we demonstrate to visitors.

The AHL is especially happy to have us, as the Vice President of Communications for the League, Jason Chaimovitch, relayed. “We haven’t had a presence in California in over eighty years and this coming season, we added teams in Stockton, San Jose, San Diego, and Ontario, as well as Bakersfield.” This division he is speaking of is referred to as the Pacific Division, and we are proudly one of the five to have made the grade. He also went on to add how this new League in which the Condors are in will assuredly bring more to the overall experience. “There is now a direct correlation between Bakersfield and the NHL,” Chaimovitch asserted. “For the fans of the game and the fans who follow these teams, they’re going to see more recognizable names that will have an impact on the next level.”

It also isn’t lost to the AHL just all of the greatness that the Pacific Division can bring to fans and the cities in which these teams play, as well. “It has the potential to bring a lot of new people to Bakersfield,” he mused. “I think there is real excitement throughout the state where the teams are going to play starting in the fall. I can see fans coming in from other cities and making it a little vacation in those cities that aren’t in their area. Now that we have a cluster of teams in California, you will surely see fans come in and visit.”

So whose town is it? Oh yeah: it’s Condorstown—and this is only the beginning.

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