Aces Owner Sees Blue Skies (And Ice) Ahead
That's where Friedman's Brooklyn Aces play professional hockey for the Eastern Professional Hockey League, a minor league outlet for a number of major league teams, including the New York Islanders.
Friedman, who is the owner of the fledgling team, just saw them lose the first-ever EPHL championship to the New Jersey Rockhoppers, but he was philosophical about both the loss and the amount of money his team cost him over the 50-game season.
Crowds at Aviator Sports varied during the 25 home games from a low of fewer than 100 for a Tuesday night game to more than 1,500 for a game late last month.
And, while Friedman, who owns a Brooklyn scrap metal business, "lost his shirt" as well as the championship, he says that he will be back again next year.
"I love hockey and I had a tremendous year, despite the losses," Friedman told Wave Editor Howard Schwach. "I enjoy the games. It's like I throw a party for hundreds of fans a few times a week. You can't beat it."
Friedman grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn and graduated from South Shore High School in 1978.
After giving college in Hartford, Connecticut a try for a year, Friedman says he transferred to the "college of hard knocks."
Through his trials, however, he maintained the love of hockey he picked up in New England, where Hartford College and the Hartford Whalers of the WHA held sway.
When a fan brought a copy of the Whaler's Fight Song to an Aces game and convinced a team official to play it over the loudspeaker system, Friedman got all teary.
He coached a local EPHL team with noted hockey coach Curt Russell, who called Friedman when funding for the league got tough.
"I really was needed to keep the league going," he said. "So, I signed up to buy a team."
Where to put the team?
"Brooklyn was the first and only choice," he said, adding that the new Aviator complex was a perfect fit.
There is talk, however, that he may move the team to the Abe Stark Arena in Coney Island next year to draw more fans from central Brooklyn.
Friedman would neither confirm nor deny the rumor.
"That decision has not been made yet, but I am sure that the Aces' fans will be happy wherever we go."
When Friedman was asked about the best decision he made during his first season, he said without hesitation that it was bringing his wife, Stacy, into the business on the merchandising side.
He says that he had an outstanding year, citing "the best players, the best coach, the best staff and the best fans" in the league.
During this inaugural year, the EPHL had four teams.
The Aces played New Jersey to a standstill over eight periods in the playoffs last week, winning the first game in overtime and losing the second the same way. In the exciting third, and deciding game, the teams were tied at 1-1 for the first two periods, and then at 2-2 in the third, until the Rockhoppers scored a second goal in the third period.
They then scored an open net goal and clinched it with another, to win 4-2.
Next year, the EPHL intends to expand to at least seven or eight teams, Friedman said, adding some as far away as Cape Cod and Maine.
He wants to see the Aces, the league, and its players succeed.
Friedman said that, for his players to succeed, they have to be good enough to move up the ladder to double A teams such as Elmira and Utah, as several of his best players did this year.
James Brannigan, the Aces leading scorer, was called up to the Utah Grizzlies at mid-season, and became a scoring stat in the ECHL, a double A league.
His young star, CJ Tozo, who was the league's Rookie of the Year, scored 67 points this season in 50 games, a statistic that is sure to draw some off-season offers from teams in higher leagues.
Goalies Eddie Neville and Milo Recicar won 34 games between them, making them the best goaltending duo in the league.
Neville was called up as a reserve goalie for Elmira, an affiliate of the Islanders, a number of times during the season.
"If you push up 20 kids, your season has been successful whether you win the championship or not," he said.
"I said that this is like a party," he said. "It's an expensive party, but I intend to keep doing it for many years to come, and I intend to do it right here in Brooklyn."