Less than a month ago, news started to trickle out that the Albany River Rats, the Carolina Hurricanes' AHL affiliate, could be sold to Michael Kahn, the owner of the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers, and relocated to the Queen City. Three weeks later, rumor became fact when Rats owner Dr. Walter Robb sold the team to Kahn, with the team poised to inherit the Checkers name and bring Carolina's top affiliate to North Carolina.
Canes Country had the chance to speak at length with Kahn about the purchase of the team, the affiliation with the Hurricanes, growing hockey in the state, his goals for the AHL in Charlotte, and more.
His excitement equals that of Hurricanes fans and Carolina's front office.
"I know the Hurricanes are excited," Kahn said. "Speaking with Mr. Rutherford and Mr. Karmanos, they’re extremely excited about having this opportunity. It’s incumbent upon all of us, down there and myself, to make sure we do all this correctly."
Kahn also said there would be another press conference in early March announcing more of the details of the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.
The following is Part 1 of a two-part Q&A with Michael Kahn, owner of the Charlotte Checkers.
Canes Country: Where does your passion for hockey come from?
Michael Kahn: Well, I was born and raised in Atlanta, and I grew up with the Atlanta Flames. And I played youth hockey for a few years.
CC: The sale has been about a year in making. Did Carolina initially approach you, or did you explore this on your own first?
Kahn: Honestly, Carolina approached me. It’s been a little over a year, but we really didn’t work hard on it until people made some real decisions. Like Carolina decided they really were not going to renew Albany. I’ve told a lot of people if this had been Nashville, Anaheim, any another team in the South, it might have happened but it would not have happened this quickly with them [as it did with the Hurricanes].
CC: What was the deciding factor for you in wanting to do this?
Kahn: I just thought it was a really good and unique opportunity and fit for the Carolinas, for the Hurricanes to have their AHL team basically two and a half hours down the road vs. two and a half hours by airplane. Part of my thinking was Charlotte has done a lot of growing up [since] I moved here in 1988, and part of that growing up is it has now become more of a professional town with the growth here, and by that I mean we now have professional franchises here in the Bobcats and the Panthers. And while [the AHL is not on that level], it is truly just a blink of an eye away. People want to equate it to Triple A baseball, but it’s really more than that. Because 84, 85 percent of the players in the NHL at one point played in the AHL. I don’t think Triple A baseball has that kind of percentage. This is a large leap, I think, from a hockey standpoint for people who understand hockey.
CC: You ended up purchasing the team from someone who said he wasn’t looking for the team to leave Albany. Were there ever other teams explored, or was the focus on the Albany franchise from the beginning?
Kahn: No, any team that mentioned they might be interested in selling was explored. I understand what Dr. Robb was trying to do. He did not really want hockey to leave Albany. But he had owned them for many, many years and had lost a lot of money, and was looking for a buyer that would keep them in the Albany area. However, when Carolina made the decision they were not going to renew their affiliation, it was not the nail in the coffin, so to speak, but it put Dr. Robb in the position where he not only had to find a buyer, but he needed to find an affiliation. Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that [selling to Kahn] was probably the best they could get.
CC: Speaking of pending sales, is there any progress with the sale of the ECHL franchise?
Kahn: Yes and no. I can’t say there’s a very high interest [in owning] an ECHL franchise right now, at least here in the South. We are looking around and doing what we need to do. But obviously I will be done with the franchise by the time the season is over here.
CC: There have been some reports that the Johnstown Chiefs could be moving to Greenville, S.C. Is it an option to keep the team in the South or even the Carolinas?
Kahn: Those are rumors about Johnstown. All I can tell you is everything is being explored at this time.
(Note: The Chiefs announced Sunday they are moving to Greenville, pending approval of the city's arena authority)
CC: How important is the Triangle market to the Checkers success, and vice versa how important do you see the Checkers being to Carolina’s success as a state or even all of the Carolinas franchise?
Kahn: I think they’re both important things for our success. That’s one of the reasons this got done. This is about synergy and marketing. The Hurricanes want a bigger footprint in Charlotte, and we can provide fans with the opportunity to see players who will be playing for the Hurricanes in the next year or two just right down the road where people can come down and see them. I doubt many people were able to drive up to Albany to watch future talent. Now they’re able to come down the road and do that, especially on weekends when the Hurricanes are out of town and we’re in town, we’re a great opportunity for fans from the Triangle to come see the players who could be lacing up in the next year or so, or for that matter they could be called up in a month or two. There are a lot of opportunities and synergies here that were not present previously.
To read Part 2 of the interview with Michael Kahn, click here.