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Robin Short: Getting used to life after hockey at Mile One Centre

Forward Dami Sapara finishes off a slam-dunk during the St. John’s Edges intra-squad game at Mile One Centre Thursday night. Going by those in attendance for the scrimmage, the fan-base for National Basketball League of Canada games at Mile One will be noticeably changed from the one that supported American Hockey League tams that once called the facility home.
Forward Dami Sapara finishes off a slam-dunk during the St. John’s Edges intra-squad game at Mile One Centre Thursday night. Going by those in attendance for the scrimmage, the fan-base for National Basketball League of Canada games at Mile One will be noticeably changed from the one that supported American Hockey League tams that once called the facility home.

Hoops brings a far different crowd than the AHL; plus, softball’s nationals issue

The trio of banners remain dangling from the ceiling at the Zamboni end of the building, but other than that, there was very little evidence of hockey and the AHL at Mile One Centre the other night.

Granted, Charlie Lindgren —Carey Who? — is still stirring a few memories with his IceCaps retro mask in Montreal, but the AHL is old news now in St. John’s.

Not that I’m broke up about the demise of the IceCaps. Things had changed — pro hockey has changed — and it wasn’t quite the same anymore.

But it’s still a loss.

The ads are scraped off the Mile One rink boards, and the suites are shuttered, until Johnny Reid comes to town. Professional hockey has been swapped for a few has-been or never-were hockey players going for a twirl once or twice weekly.

Rather, at Mile One Centre, hardwood and hoops and “Ball is Life” are the words of the day in these times of LAH — Life After Hockey.

I don’t know if pro basketball will make it for the long haul in St. John’s. There were only several hundred or a thousand people at the St. John’s Edge intra-squad game Thursday night, and that was with admission based on a food donation.

Then again, you needed a dory to get downtown on a rotten, wet night, which might explain, in part, the low turnout.

I know one thing, however: it was a different crowd, different faces from the hockey clientele we’ve come to recognize over the years.

And there were kids. Lots of them.

There are enough young basketball players in this city to make the National Basketball League of Canada viable for 20 nights this winter.

Of course, if the team is winning, it will be a popular brand in St. John’s. If it’s a middle-of-the-road squad, the Edge might still do okay at the turnstiles, if for no other reason there’s little else to do on a Saturday night in January.

No doubt, there is still a yearning for hockey amongst the masses.

It was a failure the first go around, but the QMJHL could work in this town, though the possibility of an ECHL team for St. John’s is an intriguing one.

Other former AHL cities like Portland, Manchester, Worcester, Adirondack and Norfolk are now home to ECHL teams.

For now, basketball will have to do, and its success will be determined by as much as what goes on off the court on game days as how the team is performing on the hardwood.

There are enough basketball-playing kids and adults, and general curiosity-seekers, to make the Edge a draw.

But it won’t match the hockey.

———

Now that the gang’s all here, in town for Softball Canada’s AGM (see related story, page B14), perhaps someone could help me out: how is it the organization’s purported Cadillac event — the national senior men’s tournament — has been reduced to a side show?

This year’s national championship was held in Saskatoon which attracted – get this – six teams from the host province. Two came from Alberta, and one each from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, B.C. and Manitoba.

The 2016 event in St. John’s was the stuff of even greater folly, with 10 teams. But hold on now. There were only four provinces competing, as Newfoundland fielded three teams, Saskatchewan four, Ontario two and a lone Nova Scotia squad.

In the meantime, ball players from B.C. are playing for Nova Scotia, Nova Scotians are in Saskatchewan, and Ontario guys are playing everywhere.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

There was, however, a reason why attendance was down at the 2016 nationals in St. John’s, and it didn’t have everything to do with lousy weather.

People are not stupid. They see a Canadian championship that borders on absurdity.

And one more thing: Canada didn’t qualify for the next Pan Am Games for the first time in history. That’s because a number of veteran national team members didn’t make the trip to the Dominican Republic back in September for a qualifying tournament, an event in which the defending Pan American Games gold medalists placed sixth.

Many players had work and family commitments, which is fair enough. But I’m wondering how many travel league tournaments they missed this season, events in which they get a few dollars?

You know, just curious.

And I’m also wondering if Softball Canada, which is losing out in a big way not having the national team in the Pan Am Games, is asking the same question?

 

Nobody asked me, but …

If an ECHL franchise came to town instead of a QMJHL team, management would be wise not to overload the club with five or six Newfoundlanders. It would only devalue the product, bringing forth the inevitable and overused comparisons to senior hockey … The Northeast Eagles senior team is dressing 12 skaters and a couple of goalies the past few games. This is a team that was in the Avalon East league championship last season. Hands up anyone who would even think about paying to watch this. … And I’m not letting this go either: didn’t the Avalon East Senior Hockey League celebrate its 50th year last season? And didn’t the league virtually throw away the name this year, opting instead to be called the East Coast Senior Hockey League? … If they keep the music on through the entire game, every game, this year at St. John’s Edge basketball, I’ll be half-deaf by March …

 

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at rshort@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

 

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