Even without a subsidy from the provincial government, an AHL franchise setting up shop at Mile One remains a very real possibility. (See more on that in Robin Short’s column in Wednesday’s Telegram — online, digital and print.)
That being said, if ever there were a time for senior hockey leagues and teams in this province to get their act together, it’s now.
One would have to think that hockey fans already dropping 12 or 15 dollars to watch former junior and the scattered former pro hit the ice at the Glacier or Jack Byrne Arena would be willing to spend a few more dollars for professional hockey (ticket prices are expected to be about $25). The old, “why eat burger when you can have steak” argument.
While the West Coast league wouldn’t be impacted, the Avalon East surely would. Given the complete lack of parity between the four clubs, I imagine fans in Mount Pearl or Torbay would be more willing to watch an AHL team inside the cozy confines of Mile One as opposed to enduring two and a half hours of their clubs skating circles around the hapless Bell Island Blues.
As I reported a few weeks ago (sorry, story didn’t go to the website), there’s a move afoot to establish a new senior hockey league to begin play next season. The teams behind the proposal are the Conception Bay North CeeBees and Mount Pearl Blades from the AESHL and the Clarenville Caribous of the WCSHL. It’s also said the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts could join the mix, depending on what happens in the WCSHL where the future the Corner Brook Royals are said to be cutting back on expenses IF they return next season while the Deer Lake Red Wings remain without a GM in place.
So, whether starting a new league with the AHL arrival looming is a good choice at this time remains to be seen. During the Baby Buds’ tenure in St. John’s, the local senior hockey scene wasn’t what it is today; there were no Brandon Roach’s, no Keith Delaney’s, and no Terry Ryan’s. It was, at best, a really good recreation league. Today’s product is infinitely better. But that, in my mind, only affords them a modest amount of hope in retaining the full extent of their fan bases.
With a new AHL franchise moving into Metro, the Mount Pearl Blades could have a hard time filling seats if any of their home games at the Glacier coincide with AHL team’s home contests, of which there will be 40-plus. How many Wednesday night games — the night’s with the lowest attendance the past two seasons — will the Blades be forced to play? More importantly, how many will the players — the majority of whom work on Thursday mornings — commit to playing? And will fans that close to a pro product even bother dropping the extra cash on a senior hockey game when they can wait for the weekend and be treated to a professional game? The Northeast Eagles, even with a great, family friendly atmosphere inside Jack Byrne, will be hard pressed to keep the few hundred faithful they have in the stands.
Speaking from a media point of view, there’s a very real threat of senior hockey becoming an afterthought, the Winnie the Pooh factor, if you will. Something tells me hockey fans would be quick to grow up and move on.