As general manager of the Oklahoma City Blazers near the dawn of this century, Chris Presson battled the Quad-City Mallards for the overall lead in minor-league hockey attendance.
He squarely is in the Mallards' corner now.
A 44-year-old father of three with 16 years of minor-league hockey experience, Presson was introduced Wednesday as president of the Mallards.
Working under CEO Bill Davidson, he will run the day-to-day operations for the Central Hockey League team that was purchased earlier this month by Canadian millionaire Eric Karls.
Presson will provide the full-time presence and daily oversight that Davidson, who also serves as CEO of three other minor league franchises as well as his National Sports Services consulting firm, could not.
Presson will work with Shawn Hackman, the holdover general manager from last year's club, to sell sponsorships and will oversee a front office staff of five. Davidson said an accountant and community outreach manager would be added in the coming days.
"He was kind of a missing piece, I felt, in the Mallards organization," said Davidson, who said he still will be actively involved in Mallards marketing, promotions and ticketing from his home base in Wichita, Kan. "They did a tremendous job, I think, last year of laying the foundation for the franchise. I felt they needed someone with significant hockey experience to really take it to the next level."
Presson's extensive experience comes with a solid knowledge of the CHL, an 18-team league in which the Mallards will debut in October.
In his 16 years of hockey, he spent only one season outside the CHL. That was as GM of the United Hockey League's New Haven Knights in 2000, a club then owned, like the Mallards, by Dr. Eric Margenau.
That's when he became familiar with Howard Cornfield, the architect of the Mallards unprecedented run of success from 1997 through 2002.
Cornfield applauded Wednesday's hire.
"It was critical," Cornfield said. "It would not have worked if Bill Davidson tried to run this from (afar). Chris has run teams before, and he is going to give us a fighting chance to make hockey successful here again."
Presson called Cornfield on his drive to the Quad-Cities from Wichita on Tuesday and said he plans to talk frequently with the former Mallards leader, who lives in Bettendorf.
He said he will listen to Mallards fans, too.
"I think we shut up and listen," he said of a key step toward trying to reclaim the Mallards yesteryear's box-office success. "Ask the proper questions and listen for the proper answers. People will tell you what they want."
In time, Presson said decade-old attendance averages of 6,500-plus might happen for the Mallards again.
"That's always the goal," said Presson, who heads Q-C pro hockey's fourth ownership group in a span of five years. "Howard set the bar very high and everyone has been jumping to grab that bar since. No one has come close since. I feel good about our chances to move up the ladder."
Presson returns to hockey after four years outside the industry. He spent a year as a minority baseball owner, another as a sports marketing professor and the past two years as an arena manager, all of those jobs in Wichita.
Previously, he was GM of CHL teams in Oklahoma City, Topeka, Kan., president of a team in Wichita and a consultant for a Memphis club. He was CHL executive of the year in 1998 and 2004.
CEO: ‘We're in the CHL'
The Quad-City Mallards are not part of an International Hockey League "alliance'' with Central Hockey League.
"The Quad-City Mallards are a part of the CHL - no ifs, ands or buts about it,'' the team's new CEO Bill Davidson said.
He said the Mallards are not part of a group of four other IHL holdovers who will continue to maintain an IHL office and record book and might weigh their league options in a couple of years after the June merging of the two leagues.
"We don't have any ties to the IHL,'' he said of the new ownership group headed by Canadian Eric Karls. "There is no emotional equity there. We're not anti-IHL but we were never in the IHL. Eric bought this team because it was in the CHL. He wouldn't have bought it if it was still in the IHL."