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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : sports : sports February 26, 2015

1/7/2012 11:19:00 PM
Q&A: Sundogs GM optimistic struggling team will improve
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Chris Presson is the Arizona Sundogs general manager of business operations.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Chris Presson is the Arizona Sundogs general manager of business operations.
Doug Cook
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT VALLEY - Arizona Sundogs general manager of business operations Chris Presson has served in his current position for only six months, and yet he's already faced a series of challenges during the 2011-12 Central Hockey League season.

Presson, who oversees the 6-year-old minor-league franchise's budget and the team for a new local ownership group, led by managing member Brad Fain, is primarily responsible for finding ways to boost home attendance and attract corporate sponsorships to keep the Sundogs afloat financially.

A successful CHL franchise is capable of winning consistently while creating an entertaining atmosphere in an arena that can attract fans, Presson said. It also weaves itself into the fabric of the community, partly through participation in charitable efforts.

While the Sundogs may have an appealing product and may be doing well at reaching out to the public, the team has been struggling on the ice, particularly this season.

Through Friday Arizona had compiled a 10-16-6 record, including a league-worst 5-9-4 at home. The Sundogs sat in sixth place out of seven teams in the Berry Conference (16 points behind the first-place Wichita Thunder), although it's important to note that the Sundogs lead the league in games decided by one goal with 19 - 12 of which were losses either in regulation or overtime.

And attendance at Tim's Toyota Center has dropped substantially since the Sundogs won the CHL's Ray Miron Presidents' Cup title in just their second season in 2007-08 under current coach and general manager of hockey operations Marco Pietroniro. Per game attendance has fallen from an average of 4,310 fans during the championship season to 2,247 spectators through 18 contests this season.

In fact, Arizona has not posted a winning record over the past three seasons (27-32-5 mark in 2008-09, 24-34-6 in 2009-10, and 25-31-10 in 2010-11), and the club is in jeopardy of suffering the same fate this year as the halfway point of the 2011-12 campaign approaches.

Last Thursday, The Daily Courier sat down with Presson inside his office at Tim's Toyota Center to ask him about the state of the Sundogs franchise as it prepares to host the 2012 CHL All-Star Game Wednesday night in the league's 20th anniversary year.

What follows are excerpts from a portion of the Courier's question-and-answer session with the GM.

Courier: Why is the current Sundogs team struggling? Where do you need to go from here to improve?

Presson: I wouldn't say we're struggling. I'd say we're in a rebuilding mode. Part of the rebuilding process is getting a grasp of the business as a whole.

I've been here about exactly six months. And when you come in and you take over a business and you're running it day-to-day, it takes several months just to get a handle on everything. I'm to that point. We've made some improvements in many areas internally, but we still have a long way to go.

Obviously we're in a major reconstruction of rebuilding our fan base, and that takes a lot of work. For us, it's more about a grassroots approach. It's not about how much TV or radio or newspaper we can run. It's about how much we get into the community with our players, with our mascot, with our coach, with myself.

Courier: Some fans have become critical of Sundogs coach Marco Pietroniro and his leadership of this team. What are your expectations of him? Is his job safe?

Presson: The expectations are that we would like to win a championship, as happened here in the second year in the existence of the franchise. There's no one that's more disappointed with where we are than Marco. Marco, after all, is the one who puts in the time to recruit players and spends long hours on the phone in the summertime when a lot of other people are at home.

Everyone's job in the organization is constantly under evaluation, mine included. So, to speculate on Marco's future is unfair to Marco because we still have half a season to play.

With that being said, are we happy with the victories we have? No. Do we continue to work hard to improve our lineup? Yes.

Our record could be completely different if we would have a little bit of luck. I can't even begin to tell you how many 1-goal games we've had that we've ended up either losing or losing in overtime or a shootout.

If you take half of those and turn them into a shootout win, then all of the sudden the complexion of your record is completely different. You can't win the championship in September, October or November. Our job is to get into the playoffs. There's a lot of parity in our league, which didn't used to be the case. There's not a bad team in the league.

Courier: One of the problems for the current team has been protecting its home ice, and not being able to win consistently at Tim's Toyota Center. What do you make of that?

Presson: That's a great question. I wish I knew the exact answer to that. I don't. Our goal is to win the majority of our home games and win at least 50 percent of our road games. Typically if you can do that in hockey, at any level, you have pretty good success.

Unfortunately, our road record (5-7-2 overall) and our home record are very similar. One of our biggest struggles is our travel (as the rest of the teams in our conference hail from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas). Our closest opponent is 1,100 miles away, and so we're on the bus a lot. We still do fly on some trips, but not that many (to save money). The understanding of what it's like to ride a bus for 30 hours, play three games and then ride a bus 30 hours home to play another game takes a toll on you. It doesn't matter if you're (age) 20, 21 or (age) 40, 41.

Our guys want to win, and that's why they're here. I still believe we have a good group of guys. Do we have the exact team here to get to where we need to be? Maybe not, and that's where Marco consistently evaluates the team every day. Marco and I talked three times this morning already about where we are as a team today and about what changes he and I see on the horizon.

I anticipate that our team will get better. And if part of that is roster moves, then sure, so be it. With our recent moves (this past week), it will make our team better. We're always looking to make the proper deal.

Courier: Is the Sundogs franchise making money? Will the team remain in Arizona?

Presson: We're not a publicly traded company, so it would be out of my realm of responsibility to tell you whether or not we are or are not making money. Can the team be viable? Yes. I've seen it before.

In the first two years of this team, the arena was full every night. I'm smart enough to be able to do the numbers and probably come pretty close into how much money was profited. So, obviously, it can be a profitable business. There was some bad luck and some other things that contributed to (the recent drop-off). Once (former Sundogs owner) Eric Lacroix and his group sold the team (after the championship season), it seemed to struggle a bit and, obviously, that's why I'm here.

Unfortunately, in our business, change doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. And for us to get back to a respectable position, it's going to take us two to three years. It's going to take consistent effort day in and day out for a pretty significant period of time.

I would love for us to get through the month of January, come back on February the 28th and have a sold-out crowd, and have sold-out crowds the rest of the season. But that's not realistic. We need to show gradual improvement, which is another 100-200 fans (per game) this year, and we need to keep climbing the ladder as we proceed into next year and beyond.

Obviously, the biggest obstacle right now is probably the economy, and the expendable income isn't what it once was here or anywhere.

Our job, ideally, is to have a team that wins at home, but if they don't, to create an experience that exhibits enough fun that people will continue to come back, regardless of whether the team wins or loses because it's a fun evening with their family.

The biggest thing is we have very good ownership. And that's not the case with a lot of teams in a lot of different leagues. They give us a chance to succeed. With the Fain family, in particular, and (co-owner) Ed (Lepordo) as well, they've been here for a long time, they're not going anywhere, and they don't want the team to go anywhere.

That's why they bought the team. This is about our region and what we can do to ensure that we begin to make more progress so that the team can be more viable in two to three years.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012
Article comment by: Jennifer Smith

If you know who I am and havent seen me, than maybe the problem is your eye sight!!! As far as me getting a life, I am not the one sitting around on my butt moaning and complaining and hoping someone will listen to me. I know you think everything revolves around you and that you are all knowing, but guess what you dont speak for all the real fans. You may not like Coach Marco but who the hell are you to try and dictate everyone else. Keep in mind opinions especially negative ones are like rear ends, everyone has one. If you want to sit back and live your life negatively go ahead but dont think everyone will do it with you.
Bottom line if you dont support the team including Coach Marco the answer is simple DONT GO!!!
ALso, if you are so proud of your opinion why hide behind a fake name?

Posted: Monday, January 09, 2012
Article comment by: Lost Fan

It seems everyone can see it's a coaching problem and I agree when the Sundogs won the cup it was Eric LaCroix to thank. Since then Marco has never had a good defensive team and has continued to go down hill with the team. Jennifer, you have to be smoking crack, get a life...
Hire a new coach a coach and I'll buy season tickets tomorrow. Owners wake up...

Posted: Monday, January 09, 2012
Article comment by: Jennifer is Clueless!

Jennifer, nobody praise Marco when we win 1 game every 9 games. We are done with him. I know who you are and I haven't seen you at any of the games lately so what are you talking about. You have no clue how bad they have been playing and its not the players fault cuz their working hard out there. Also Marco had slim to none to do with the Championship season obviously, because since Lacroix left he hasnt had a winning season...Your clueless!

Posted: Monday, January 09, 2012
Article comment by: Joe Ruda

For 6 years I have been a strong Sundogs supporter and will continue to do so as I grew up watching this great sport. In AZ where many people may be new to hockey, you build a fan base by playing competively with a strong will to win. The past 3 an 1/2 years have brought less than a good brand of hockey even though the Sundogs have signed talented players. At some point you have to look at either management or ownership. This being new ownership with a desire to fill the stands, you should look at the coaching staff for the failure of the team to perform. It may be time to look behind the bench to see if that is where the problem lies. The Sundog coaches have been unable to find a winning combination with a group of good players.
For the ownership group, please remember the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, if you build it (a winnng hockey team) the fans will come.
For the fans that have left because of our win/loss record, please come back as there are not many communities that are fortunate enough to have a professional sports team at any level.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Enough Baloney

Marco had very little to do with the first 2 years of success. That belonged to solid ownership (Fowler and LaCroix) with NHL experience and LaCroix moving down to the bench from his office during the first season and continuing through season 2. A solid NHL affiliation with the Avalanche in year 1 and the Coyotes in year 2 which brought the team players with AHL talent was another big reason for their success. ....This means getting people in the organization with NHL experience. Recruit more players from NCAA Division 1 schools. These kids play in collegiate leagues that are superior to the CHL. You can't lose by signing them. Last but not least, get a coach (like a Terry Ruskowski) who can lead, instruct, and discipline. Go to the Gwinnett Gladiators website. They are the Coyotes real AA affiliate in the ECHL whom the Coyotes have sent 7 players. Check out the Bio on their head coach and compare it to Marco's Bio. It's very obvious why the Coyotes send their players to Gwinnett.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: hockey fan

Jennifer, people yell and scream in support of the team win or lose. its hard to sit there every game and watch our team lose because of stupid coaching dessions. When Marco is constantly changing the lines the players cant adjust to each other to do any good. It takes consistancy to win games and we are not seeing that. Yes Marco was the coach when we won the cup but we have not seen a season since than that the team has finished over 500. you have to finish over 500 to have a winning season. So yes the problem is Marco. he can bring in talent but he cant coach.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Jennifer Smith

It absolutely amazes me that when the team is winning everyone loves Marco and cheers and yells but when we have a loss everyone turns so quickly. Maybe you should remember Marco is the man that bought this town the cup. Yes, its true our seasons have not gone the way we all want but name me one team that wins every year. True fans support the guys on the ice as well as Marco and Chris weather we win or loose. If you have only negative to say about the players or coaches than you are a dedicated loyal fan.
Marco has limitations on what he can do and what he can spend. The Sundogs organization has brought a lot to our community and simply stated if you dont like it dont go, but no there is no whinning and wimpering in HOCKEY!!
I for one support my team through good and bad. Even when we lose its a family function that we enjoy. My family believes in our team maybe you should start. Good luck players, Marco and Chris

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Francie Baker

We left after the second intermission last night. Just couldn't take any more. The Sundogs don't consistantly play 60 minutes. Frequently we get 20-30 minutes of play. Where is the discipline? Too many times it looks like they came to skate but not to play. Sometimes they remind me of the Keystone Cops from the old silent movies. I'm sorry but disappointment doesn't even begin to cover my feelings about the team and their play. I'm really rethinking the purchase of season tickets again next year.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Dave Clondike

I am so tired of hearing about the amount of 1-goal games the team lost, and, "if only we had some luck, and if only the bounces went our way, and if only we could have won those 1-goal games, etc., etc." The common denominator in all those games is you have the SAME coach behind the bench. Coach P. does not know HOW to win those 1-goal games, cannot inspire his players to win those 1-goal games, and is out of ideas. I heard the coach on the radio the other night saying how "unacceptable" it is to not win those games (especially at home), and I could not agree more. It is unacceptable that he not be removed immediately.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Paul Leon

The boos are getting louder. You have traded players because they have complained. We the season ticket holders have complained. The team is not playing up to their potential. You must realize by now that there is only one thing left to do. REPLACE THE COACH!!!!

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Catanzarite

I walked out of the game last night.
Want my business give me a product that meets my expectations.

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Catanzarite

Four years of the team loosing makes it hard for us season ticket holders (6years) to be satisfied with the product.
Making it difficult to continue when there is no signs of improvement. Any other business would change the leadership if results show no improvement. Why not the Sundogs, want my business give me a product to meet my expectations.

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