A story in black and white: Fred Slade shares stories from his days as chief referee
CLARENVILLE, NL — His uniform is familiar and once he steps onto the ice at a senior hockey game in Clarenville, he never gets a shift off.
This looks like the final year for the AHL in St. John’s, but COO says the team is still worth supporting
There is no slogan to highlight what might be the last season of American Hockey League in St. John’s. You can’t really market it as a going-out-of-business-sale, sell it as a swan song or put up posters ballyhooing a final performance that will come more than six months and 76 games from now.
However, the chief operating officer for the AHL’s IceCaps thinks the uncertain future of the league’s presence in St. John’s, while not a cause for celebration, does provide an opportunity for local hockey fans.
“We don’t know for sure that this is the last year for the AHL, but if it is, I think it’s a chance to embrace a history that stretched back 25 years … that’s a quarter of a century,” said Glenn Stanford.
“There have great moments and great players over the years. For the most part, it’s been a great product and we think it’s been entertaining.
“And it still is.”
Stanford stresses the last point.
He admits ticket sales have taken a hit since the Montreal Canadiens confirmed they would be moving their AHL franchise from here to Laval, Que., for the start of the 2017-18 season. Not that the Canadiens’ announcement was a surprise — when they put their farm-team operations here last year, they said they would probably stay two years, maybe three, depending on construction time of a new rink in Laval.
The time frame turned out to be the former.
Stanford admits the Habs’ early July announcement of their planned 2017 relocation to Laval “didn’t help” the IceCaps in their season-ticket drive, but adds he doesn’t understand how it could be perceived as a rejection of St. John’s.
“This was Montreal’s plan all along. That was made clear from the beginning,” said Stanford, comparing the situation to 2005, when the Maple Leafs moved their AHL team from here to Toronto.
“When the Leafs said they were leaving, it was a bit of a surprise and people felt let down. But personally, I don’t see how people would feel that way is this case.
“I’ve heard people tell me they weren’t renewing (season tickets) because of the economic climate, and I get that. I’ve been told by others that they don’t really have the time to commit to 38 (home) games. I can get that. But when I’m told that someone is not buying because the Canadiens are leaving next year and they won’t support the St. John’s IceCaps, I don’t get that.
“I’m not saying that this isn’t how those people feel and that how they decide to spend — or not spend — their money is their business. I’m just saying I personally don’t understand it.
“Let’s put it this way: If Elton John was coming here and announced that this was likely going to be his last performance in St. John’s, would people want to stay away? I don’t think so. Just the opposite, probably.”
With their summertime season-ticket drive over, the IceCaps have begun selling 12- and 18-game ticket pages, and single-game ticket sales will start Oct. 8, just less than a week before the team begins its 2016-17 schedule with a six-game road trip.
“We’ll see how it goes,” said Stanford. “We have just 14 home games before Christmas and 24 after that, so if we get a good start like we did the first half of last season (the IceCaps didn’t lose in regulation at Mile One Centre until Dec. 11), that should entice people to come out.”
Meanwhile, Stanford says efforts to find a hockey replacement for St. John’s are continuing, reiterating they, “are looking at all options.”
That would seem to be an indication of the dwindling chances of gaining another AHL partner, and the increasing likelihood that a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team is more attainable.
Whatever the case, Stanford agrees an announcement of the imminent arrival of another team — in whatever league — probably would help put more bodies in the Mile One stands this season.
“It wouldn’t hurt,” he said of a continuation factor. “Having said that, whatever happens, the quality of the product (the IceCaps) put on the ice will be the same and we believe it will be very, very good.
“It will be worth the money.”