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Here’s how hoops can be a hit

The Halifax Hurricanes and London Lightning tangle in an NBL Canada game at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax in this file photo taken last year. The pro game could work in St. John’s if it’s a fan friendly experience.
The Halifax Hurricanes and London Lightning tangle in an NBL Canada game at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax in this file photo taken last year. The pro game could work in St. John’s if it’s a fan friendly experience.

About this time last year, when the IceCaps were preparing for their final training camp in St. John’s, and the American Hockey League was poised for its swan song after 20 years in Newfoundland, it’s a good bet not a solitary soul forecasted pro basketball replacing pro hockey as the thing to do and see in downtown St. John’s.

The hope was for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to move into Mile One Centre, via franchise relocation, and replace the American Hockey League. But that fell apart.

Charlottetown was thought to be coming here, but in the end, the multiple owners of that QMJHL franchise opted to keep the Islanders in P.E.I.

Just as it appeared Mile One would go dark this winter, along comes the National Basketball League of Canada, a bit of a third-rate pro hoops circuit, but nonetheless pro.

The first game in town is just over two months away, on Dec. 1, and the million-dollar question on everyone’s lips is whether hoops can work in what has been, for the past 25-plus years, a “hockey town.”

Or at least a town that had hockey.

For starters, the basketball franchise has a deep-pocketed owner in one Irwin Simon, a New Yorker by way of Cape Breton Island who figures he can turn a buck at hoops and hockey in St. John’s.

Why else would he be involved?

Simon, by all accounts, has plenty of zeroes behind his name so there shouldn’t be any worries of the franchise going under (not that he’ll be flinging around cheques; I haven’t met a money-man yet who doesn’t squeeze a nickel so hard the beaver flinches).

Dec. 1 and 2 will be important dates for the yet-to-be-named hoops team. That’s opening weekend and there will only be one chance (or two, as it were) to make an impression on dubious, fickle St. John’s sports fans.

There should be a nice crowd for those games — I suspect 4,000-plus — most of whom will be curious onlookers checking out this new thing at Mile One.

Whether they return depends on what happens that weekend.

Here’s how you get them back:

 

• Build a team that’s designed to score a lot of points. I don’t want dependable defensive players. I want athletes playing above the rim. I want 125 points per night. If St. John’s loses 138-124, c’est la vie.

 

• Get the kids involved. Hockey’s king in these parts — always will be — but basketball has a healthy following at the youth, junior high and high school levels. At halftime, I’m opening the court to the kids to run around and take shots.

I’m also finding an area at one end of the floor (there’s enough room) to have a shooting/play area with a hoop for the youngsters.

 

• I’m bringing in cheerleaders. Easy now, feminists. They’ll be appropriately dressed (this is family entertainment, after all).

 

• I’m bringing in halftime entertainment shows, like the groups who bound off trampolines into somersaults, and slamming down dunks. Saw them in Philadelphia once. They were better than the Sixers and Suns.

 

• There will be promotions, and lots of them. Some will be of the wacky minor league baseball variety — maybe an Elvis impersonation night — and some will be legit. Some will be dunk night, some three-point shooting. Some will have a toga party theme. Call it carnival if you wish; I prefer fun fan experience.

 

•A $20 ticket goes without saying.

 

• Finally, my team will be out in the public. Nobody knew the hockey players, save for a couple or three school, hospital and minor hockey visits per year. These guys will be in the gyms, working with the minor basketball players and coaches. They’ll be selling their own game.

 

Nobody asked me, but …

The City of St. John’s has forced at least one household in Southlands to put away the hockey and basketball nets. With increased awareness on child obesity, and getting children active, the city, in its wisdom, is forcing residents to take down their basketball and hockey nets. Like there aren’t more pressing matters requiring attention.

The deal between the Irwin Simon/John Graham group and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment to bring an NBL Canada team to St. John’s was actually reached Aug. 11. Yet it wasn’t finalized until a announcement at Monday’s city council meeting. What took so long? … Wonder if we’ll ever see Irwin Simon, a billionaire, apparently, here in St. John’s? … Basketball people are understandably excited with the new franchise, but remember this: it’s about hockey and getting first dibs on negotiating rights with Mile One should a major junior, or even a pro team, becomes available. I hope if and when that happens, the hoops doesn’t fall by the wayside … The Memorial Sea-Hawks men’s basketball was irrelevant even before pro hoops arrived, thanks to 10-plus years of futility, and it won’t get any easier now. Things could change if the Sea-Hawks actually had a winning record, but that hasn’t happened since 2002 … Vasilije Curcic, the 6-9 former Memorial Sea-Hawk, should get a tryout with the St. John’s NBL team … Get this: there’s some talk of a new senior hockey league forming that would include the castaway C.B.N. CeeBees. If that actually occurs, that would be, by my count, four senior leagues in the province — the West Coast operation, the Central-West circuit, what’s left from last year’s Avalon East league and this potential new startup operation. Why is it senior hockey in this province, from a governance perspective, continues to be a joke, the stuff of folly? … Friend of mine from Southlands called the other day, saying she received a second notice from the City of St. John’s about the basketball and street hockey nets in front of her house, on the side of the street. With the problems facing this city — chief among them a crumbling infrastructure, and a downtown with increasing vacancies and more kooks roaming the streets — you’re telling me somebody at City Hall invested the time and resources to examine the issue of street hockey and basketball nets — yes, kids’ hockey and hoops nets — and followed up by issuing directives to the ‘guilty’ parties demanding they be removed? Really? And I don’t want to hear the issue of safety. It wasn’t a safety issue for my generation, the generation before me, nor the generation after me. The buffoon responsible for leading the charge on this matter is devoid of any sense of reason and the ability to identify what is, and what is not a critical issue. That, and flat out daft … My buddy Ted Cantwell might be right after all: The Leafs just may be the next Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup … See where Dartmouth, N.S., opened its new four-plex arena this month. Not to be mistaken for the four-plex complex 20 minutes away in Bedford. Just for a laugh, someone should inquire to city council about constructing a four-plex facility here in St. John’s. And wait for the reply. See, here’s the difference: the Halifax Regional Municipality is a burgeoning, vibrant, community. Compared to it, St. John’s is the Sahara …

 

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

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