A second look at St. John's

Robin
Robin Short
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Bulldogs, Moose and Marlies' four-day mini-tourney to re-test city's appetite for AHL

The American Hockey League is making a seven-day cameo appearance at Mile One Centre in the fall, which leaves one to ponder: what about the other 51 weeks?

Well, there is the Herder. Shinny hockey. General skating. Maybe even an interlocking east-west senior tilt or two, if those who run amateur hockey were actually - laughter here - liberal-minded.

Hamilton Bulldogs president Glenn Stanford (right) presents St. John's Sports and Entertainment head Gerry Smith with Bulldogs' jersey at a news conference announcing an AHL mini tournament for St. John's this fall. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Sports scene - The American Hockey League is making a seven-day cameo appearance at Mile One Centre in the fall, which leaves one to ponder: what about the other 51 weeks?

Well, there is the Herder. Shinny hockey. General skating. Maybe even an interlocking east-west senior tilt or two, if those who run amateur hockey were actually - laughter here - liberal-minded.

St. John's Sports and Entertainment is eager to lure hockey of some significance back at Mile One, and the game of choice is the AHL. But it won't happen next season. And probably not 2009-2010.

The AHL, in fact, is far from guaranteed.

But there's a hope a pre-season AHL training camp/tournament running Sept. 29-Oct. 5 is a litmus test for the city.

Ticket sales for the four-day mini tournament in early October featuring the Hamilton Bulldogs, Manitoba Moose and Toronto Marlies - the team the Maple Leafs morphed into after 14 years in St. John's - could have big implications in St. John's landing, or not landing, another AHL franchise.

The Bulldogs, now run by former St. John's Maple Leafs head Glenn Stanford, will hold camp at Mile One for a few days - reported from this corner back in February - before the single round-robin tourney opens Oct. 2. The final goes Oct. 5.

Now, while a pre-season tournament offering a few AHLers, but primarily juniors and low-level minor pros, won't send the turnstiles spinning out of whack, don't think the AHL and some NHL teams won't nonetheless be watching with curiosity to determine if AHL interest lingers in St. John's.

"We want to show the AHL this town likes hockey," St. John's Sports and Entertainment head Gerry Smith said Friday.

Since the announcement the St. John's Fog Devils had been sold to a Montreal businessman early in the New Year - bringing a brief, sometimes-contemptuous fling with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to an end - SJSE has been clambering to come up with an alternative plan.

It begins and ends with the AHL.

But that league's landscape is changing, with larger urban markets like Austin, Texas, Bakersfield, Calif., and Abbottsford, B.C., adjacent to Greater Vancouver, all anxious to land teams.

St. John's faces stiff competition, but what are its options? The QMJHL has soured on this market, and it will take a bold, deep-pocketed owner to consider St. John's for relocation.

Convincing the AHL to revisit St. John's is one thing, but persuading an NHL parent club Newfoundland remains viable is quite another.

The Islanders continue to be rumoured as a suitor. Things have changed, and continue to change, in Toronto. Cliff Fletcher's in the captain's chair, and the Leafs are losing about $5 million a year on the Marlies.

But the Canadiens, however, won't be moving any time soon.

"I think I've heard that 20 times during the two days I've been here," Stanford said. "We are not coming here."

Smith remains confident St. John's, based on its past, can win over a few people.

"This franchise was for 14 years one of the longest-standing, well-run and well-marketed franchises in the AHL," Smith said.

"We're open for business, and we've got to be open to any options. Our priority is to get a major tenant in here."

One of those options is the potential of a public-private partnership, with the city's contribution being Mile One.

It's an association that should have come about with the Fog Devils, rather than a case of a bitter landlord, jealous of his tenant's 60" surround sound TV, tightening a financial noose.

But past is past.

Now it's up to SJSE to ensure it does a proper selling job for the future, one that doesn't include Mile One as the new home to local senior hockey.

Talk about "Reverse skating, please."

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: American Hockey League, Maple Leafs, NHL Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Canadiens

Geographic location: St. John's, Montreal, Austin, Texas Bakersfield, Calif. Abbottsford Newfoundland Toronto

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Recent comments

  • tom
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    i cant wait to boo the marlies, bring em on

  • Gerry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Hockey fans in this city are idiots. By supporting the Fog Devils we could have insured affordable hockey entertainment for years to come.

    The rest of the country already knows that major junior is terrific entertainment. Look at how teams flourish from Halifax to Vancouver and dozens of large and small towns in between.

    But not here. St. John's hockey fans are clueless. Maybe we deserve all those dumb Newfie jokes.

    Remember the last ten years of the St. John's Maple Leafs? Worst. Hockey. Ever.

    And Nick Hynes: blaming the mascot is pathetic. The Fog Devils did tons of marketing, loads of community work and had several players drafted by NHL teams.

  • Nick
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    The problem with the Fog Devils began when Dobbin did a back room deal with the league and SJSE took their ball and went home. Poor choices by The Devils and there management. Starting a new team, you would think that they would be blanketing the city with players at every event from the regatta to aunt betty's 95th birthday. They tryed to market to familys, but played most games mid-week and chose a devil for their mascot. I saw more than one kid lose it when it came toward them...

  • brian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    What is it with you and The Telegram in general Robin? We finally have a positive hockey news story that should make you smile and yet you still cannot write a simple article without taking childish cheap shots at the city and Mile One. You must really be missing Andy.

  • Steve
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I'm all for getting another team at Mile One. I truly believe there are hockey fans in St. John's.

    The major hurdles at ensuring that any future team succeeds is removing the ignorance from a large majority of the St. John's people who believed,

    1- Tickets were too pricey

    2 - There was nowhere to park

    3 - The home team sucks

    When the Fog Devils left.

    In all honesty, ticket prices were reasonable. I recall paying under $30 for sitting behind the net during the days of the St. John's Maple Leafs and under $20 for seats to the Fog Devils. Now that's a steal.

    As for parking - people will complain, complain, complain about not being able to park downtown. More re-education must be done to tell people - take the Park and Ride. I've taken the Park and Ride and other means of transportation other than my own car when living to Edmonton to watch the Oilers and Eskimos. For whatever reason, people are unwilling to use the cheap park and ride and are more willing to be stuck in a traffic jam after the game just so they can drive home immediately after the game is over.

    Go to Rexall Place in Edmonton and you will barely see any available parking, in fact, the only immediate parking at Rexall is reserved for the players. The same applies to Commonwealth Stadium, the only parking spaces areserved for - get this, the Park and Ride Buses.

    Imagine, if St. John's had a park and ride service so people would not have to deal with finding a parking spot before game time so fans could arrive on time and afterwards find their cars easily....oh wait....St. John's offered that!

    Finally, if and when a team comes back to NL, whoever is in control, it has to be marketed as the people's team, something the community can be proud of and want to watch. without any connection between team and fan, there will not be any butts in the seats.

    If these 3 variables succeed, I firmly believe so will any hockey team calls St. John's its home.

  • tom
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    i cant wait to boo the marlies, bring em on

  • Gerry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Hockey fans in this city are idiots. By supporting the Fog Devils we could have insured affordable hockey entertainment for years to come.

    The rest of the country already knows that major junior is terrific entertainment. Look at how teams flourish from Halifax to Vancouver and dozens of large and small towns in between.

    But not here. St. John's hockey fans are clueless. Maybe we deserve all those dumb Newfie jokes.

    Remember the last ten years of the St. John's Maple Leafs? Worst. Hockey. Ever.

    And Nick Hynes: blaming the mascot is pathetic. The Fog Devils did tons of marketing, loads of community work and had several players drafted by NHL teams.

  • Nick
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    The problem with the Fog Devils began when Dobbin did a back room deal with the league and SJSE took their ball and went home. Poor choices by The Devils and there management. Starting a new team, you would think that they would be blanketing the city with players at every event from the regatta to aunt betty's 95th birthday. They tryed to market to familys, but played most games mid-week and chose a devil for their mascot. I saw more than one kid lose it when it came toward them...

  • brian
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    What is it with you and The Telegram in general Robin? We finally have a positive hockey news story that should make you smile and yet you still cannot write a simple article without taking childish cheap shots at the city and Mile One. You must really be missing Andy.

  • Steve
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I'm all for getting another team at Mile One. I truly believe there are hockey fans in St. John's.

    The major hurdles at ensuring that any future team succeeds is removing the ignorance from a large majority of the St. John's people who believed,

    1- Tickets were too pricey

    2 - There was nowhere to park

    3 - The home team sucks

    When the Fog Devils left.

    In all honesty, ticket prices were reasonable. I recall paying under $30 for sitting behind the net during the days of the St. John's Maple Leafs and under $20 for seats to the Fog Devils. Now that's a steal.

    As for parking - people will complain, complain, complain about not being able to park downtown. More re-education must be done to tell people - take the Park and Ride. I've taken the Park and Ride and other means of transportation other than my own car when living to Edmonton to watch the Oilers and Eskimos. For whatever reason, people are unwilling to use the cheap park and ride and are more willing to be stuck in a traffic jam after the game just so they can drive home immediately after the game is over.

    Go to Rexall Place in Edmonton and you will barely see any available parking, in fact, the only immediate parking at Rexall is reserved for the players. The same applies to Commonwealth Stadium, the only parking spaces areserved for - get this, the Park and Ride Buses.

    Imagine, if St. John's had a park and ride service so people would not have to deal with finding a parking spot before game time so fans could arrive on time and afterwards find their cars easily....oh wait....St. John's offered that!

    Finally, if and when a team comes back to NL, whoever is in control, it has to be marketed as the people's team, something the community can be proud of and want to watch. without any connection between team and fan, there will not be any butts in the seats.

    If these 3 variables succeed, I firmly believe so will any hockey team calls St. John's its home.