Mid-Season Minor League Team Folds: Could It Happen To Yours?

The business of minor league sports is always a difficult one.  It’s completely gate-driven, and if the butts in the seats aren’t there, you won’t make money.  A good arena lease is pretty instrumental to the success of a team, but if you don’t have the fans at the arena, you won’t be able to pay for the arena, no matter how sweet the lease is.

Look at the Wikipedia pages of just about any minor league and you will see the bodies of old franchises strewn everywhere.  What you don’t often see is a team fold in the middle of the season. It throws things into utter chaos for the league, and teams usually have their finances together enough to survive their final season.

So it was a little surprising to hear that the San Francisco Bulls have thrown in the towel and shut down mid-season.  From their website:

“We had a great opportunity come to us that would’ve kept the Bulls in San Francisco at least through the end of the 2014 season, with potential for future seasons, but we ran out of time to complete all ends of the deal,” said Curcio. “At this point, the best thing to do financially is to reluctantly end the season. We will miss playing here, miss our fans, and miss this city.”

The Bulls also say they are taking requests for refunds on remaining tickets.  Requests?  Let’s call those demands instead.  No one is going to call the office and say, “I want my money back.”  They will call to say ,”Give me my money back.”

The ECHL is going to have to scramble to reschedule the Western Conference.  The next game the Bulls were supposed to play was a home game on Thursday, January 30th.  That’s only three days after shutting down.  With a conference hosting a few teams that have to fly to destinations (Colorado and Alaska), it’s not as easy as it sounds, and there will probably be some money lost by the other franchises in the process.

There have been other teams to fold mid-season.  It’s not a unique situation, even if it’s a little odd.  The ECHL lost the Fresno Falcons a few years ago, the IHL lost the Milwaukee Flacons and saw the Denver Mavericks relocate to Minnesota, the Central Hockey League watched the Border City Bandits fold, the SPHL shut down the Florida Seals, the United Hockey League gave up the Columbus Stars and the Mohawk Valley Prowlers.  And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mid-season shutdown in the Federal Hockey League.  It almost looks like a right of passage there.

So fine, it happens.  But what about the rest of the landscape?  What are the chances another team will go down before the season ends?

From pure attendance numbers, the Bulls aren’t the least troublesome franchise out there.  In the ECHL, they were second worst in attendance, with the Wheeling Nailers beating them out.  The Nailers have been around a lot longer than the Bulls, and have had half houses as far back as the ECHL website would go.  So they are no stranger to that issue, and seem to do just fine.

In the Central Hockey League, the lowest attended team is the Denver Cutthroats.  They are almost seven hundred down from the next lowest attendance, and 2,200 off the league average.  The CHL has seen a big change in the last several years as their base of Texas teams went the route of the cheaper American Junior hockey leagues, and league ownership shifted to some of the franchise owners.  Will the Cutthroats weather the storm?  I think so, but after this season, it’s a hard question to answer.

The American Hockey League is pretty stable.  I can’t see anyone shutting down mid-season.  With their close ties to the NHL, it’s hard to imagine a franchise being allowed to shut down.  Even the least financially viable, the Abbotsford Heat, seem to be in decent shape.  I expect a few teams to relocate this summer, but nothing mid-season.

The SPHL seems pretty stable right now.  The SPHL draws almost 500 less fans on average per game than the Central, but they are set up financially for that kind of attendance.  At the same time, four CHL teams are below the SPHL’s league attendance.

As for the Federal Hockey League, they can’t afford to lose a team.  They only have four right now.  I suspect that if any team shut down, the fans of the Danbury Whale would just beat them up.  Don’t believe me?  Read this history of the the old Danbury Trashers (which I had the ‘privilege’ to see live once).

So it’s a pretty unlikely scenario, but there are still a few teams in trouble out there.  Whether or not they shut down mid-season is anyone’s guess, but it could come down to deep enough pockets and enough backbone to sustain losses as they mount.  And with some of those numbers, they will mount.

The Attendance Issue Again

Monday was the annual rolling out of the “attendance woes” column by the Denver Post.  Unlike most years, it was given this time to the more thoughtful Terry Frei, rather than the standard pallbearers.  So there was less “bad fan” jabs and more “I’m kind of surprised” this year. It’s a nice change.

I can’t speak for all the fans.  As I’ve found out, I’m not like most fans, and I find that a good thing.  I will speak for myself however.

Since the last lockout, I haven’t spent any money on tickets to an Avalanche game (this season, I’ve been to two games).  I haven’t spent any money on an NHL game, actually, although I have dropped a few dollars on a few minor league games.  I’ve also handed over plenty of money this season to play beer league hockey, so my hockey investment is going somewhere.

I have given the NHL my money in the form of Gamecenter Live.  I have the online package, so I can watch almost any game from anywhere.  With a nice TV and an Apple TV to watch it on at home, I don’t feel like I’ve given up on much.

Is this stance, that I haven’t spent money on tickets, a reasonable one?  I’m not entirely sure.  I only occasionally miss going to games, but it’s mostly for the social aspect of it, rather than the game itself.  The game is wonderful, and I love attending games, but somewhere in the back of my head, I get annoyed that I spend that much money for this.

“This” includes:

  • A long walk to the arena, because I won’t be spending THAT MUCH on parking,
  • The same music, videos, games, gags, highlights, and ads every time,
  • An uncomfortable and squished seat, often around obnoxious non-fans (warn me next time I buy a ticket on “guys night out,OK?),
  • Overpriced everything,
  • An upper concourse you can hardly wiggle though at intermission, or
  • A lower concourse that is jam packed with drunks,
  • Drunks,
  • Drunk fans of the opposing team,
  • Drunk Red Wings fans (they are always around),
  • Loud armchair GMs
  • Loud armchair coaches,
  • “SHOOT!!!!”
  • Lines to unclean bathrooms.

The list goes on.  All of this for an outlay of A LOT OF MONEY, NO MATTER WHERE YOU SIT.  Wow, what a privilege to pay top dollar for that.

I’ll be honest, watching at home gets a little tiring.  I miss the live game, and I miss the experience.  But by playing hockey, actually getting out there and playing, I get such a great experience, even at my low level of ability.  I have a completely different angle on the NHL game and I experience it differently.

As far as the Avalanche, they aren’t the same team as they were in the glory years, and they haven’t been for a long time.  We all know this.  After their success and stars went elsewhere, the fans did as well.  Then the communication with the fans went away.  The marketing went away.  It was like the front office wasn’t even trying.  And when you don’t try, you get exactly what is coming to you.

Fans bemoan being told from the outside world that Denver isn’t a hockey town any more.  I don’t blame them, but the numbers don’t lie.  There are many die-hard fans in Denver, and I love those people.  I count myself as one of them.  But it isn’t Canada.  It isn’t Pittsburgh and much of the East Coast.  Sometimes, it isn’t even Minnesota.  The level of fandom doesn’t tend to translate to the number of fans or ticket buyers.

The numbers tell a different story than we fans want to believe.  Even the minor league Denver Cutthroats, with their free parking, low ticket prices, and loads of promotion are struggling at the gate.  They are last in the league in attendance, averaging 1,371 a game, nearly six hundred down from the nearest competitor.  That’s down 1,400 from last season.  1,400.  Sure, last season they were new, and half the games were played during the NHL lockout.  Sure, the Broncos are a great distraction for the city, but fans are fans.  Cheap games are still cheap games.  Where did everyone go?  I would love to compare to the numbers from the start of the CHL season to the end.

Denver is a saturated sports market.  Two lacrosse teams, all the major sports, MLS, and a minor league hockey team.  There is more sport than there is dollar to support it right now.  At least there isn’t arena football to throw in the mix.  But there was, and it didn’t help the Avalanche cause.

Look, I don’t like it any more than other Avalanche fans, but I’m also not going to many games myself, so yes, I am a part of the problem.  Oh, the injustice of it all.  Right now, I’m an NHL level fan with a minor league budget, and a bit of an ax to grind over the last lockout.  That ax is getting smaller and smaller all the time, but still, the investment I have made in time and money over the years in the Avalanche has been significant.  If I want to watch from the sanctity of my own home, I will do so.  The Denver Post will just have to deal with it.

At least, until next year.

Cedar Rapids Roughriders vs. Tri City Storm: Death to Cowbell

Somewhere in the depths of my storage unit, there is a cowbell.  That cowbell has the logo of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders on it.  It is black, with a white strap on it, bought at the Roughriders store many years ago.  I haven’t seen that cowbell in years. 

When I find that thing, I am going to mangle it into an unrecognizable shape that would not make noise unless you split it’s atoms apart.  It’s parents will weep openly at the destruction of their little baby cowbell.  There will be outcry from activists and anger from the media at what I do to that cowbell.  It will be amazing.

I hadn’t been to a game in Cedar Rapids in a very long time.  I could have – and hindsight tells me should have – gone to a game in Dubuque tonight, but I chose to go back to the City of Five Smells (no kidding, this is what they call it, and the smells are not of the pleasant variety).  It is a mistake my left ear might live to regret.  

If you haven’t guessed, the Roughriders and their fans are obsessed with cowbells.  They ring them at every opportunity.  They ring them whenever the guy singing their country theme song, Ridertown USA (again, I wish I were kidding), says the name of the song. Imagine you are watching a Vancouver Canucks game, and every time Luongo made a save, instead of the annoying “LOOOUUUUUU” the crowd bellows, they ring their cowbells.  Or a pass is completed, or a check of even the slightest intensity was delivered.  Ring ring ring.  

And it’s the guy behind you, ringing it right next to your ear (who finally figured it out after I looked back a few times and started ringing it in slightly-the-other-direction).  And the guy across the aisle.  And hundreds and hundreds of other people.  All the time. 

Then I found out you can get earplugs for free.  Who knew? 

So I guess I’m that guy.

I have talked about this before, but I love the way hockey sounds.  The skates as they dig in for a hockey stop, the way a puck smacks on a stick as a pass is caught, the crashing into the boards.  Take away the sounds and it’s a surreal feeling.  You don’t even feel like you are there.  You feel like there is something going on, but it’s unfamiliar.  You’re floating above the action, a casual observer.  The sounds of hockey are why we tolerate Pierre McGuire or half of the awful Versus/OLN/NBCSC calls we have heard over the years.  We want that sound.  We love that sound.  Tonight, I really missed that sound. 

Also, this guy?  The one in the hat?

CRJerk

Yes, I am not feeling very charitable.  Screw this guy.  He needs to get his prostate checked.  He pees more than a drunk 19 year old girl. Also, don’t stop to go back once someone has stood up to let you by (repeatedly) to see if your buddy needs a beer.  And the dude in front of him with the chops in the jersey?  Yeah, him as well.  Prostate checks, boys.  And about the tenth time you squeeze past someone, say something at least hallway apologetic.  Otherwise, you’re a jerk.  Or maybe you’re a jerk anyways.  Seriously, screw hat guy.  Such a jerk. 

ALSO – can you tell I’m pissed off tonight? – every hockey fan knows you wait for a stoppage in play to take your seat.  And if you don’t know where your seat is, figure it out before going down the stairs.  Two groups of people who can’t figure out their tickets, standing in the way while play is going on, are two to many.  The Roughriders could have done something about this, had they had ushers.  But there don’t seem to be any, which seems insane.  Don’t get me wrong, ushers aren’t the absolute solution, but you wouldn’t have had people figuring out how to count to row 7 if there were ushers.  

Cedar Rapids beat the Tri City Storm 3-2, but I wish they had lost 7-0. I wanted to see these fans suffer, even if only a few deserved it.  I was not in a good mood, and it was the game that turned me sour.  I was tired before the game, and I am ready to head home, but from the start of the game, it was hard to find anything positive about this experience.  

To the photos:

Welcome to The Stable, the most annoying arena known to mankind (OK, I’ll try to give it a rest for a bit).  

The Stable

There are two ice surfaces here, a practice / public rink and the Roughriders rink.  This is the practice rink.

Practice Rink

Go up the stairs, with RR logos…

Sorry it's blurry

Through the doors…

Doors

And you get to the rink.

Rink

Seems kind of dark, doesn’t it?  It’s like that most of the time.  Unless the game is on, the lights are out.  You can mostly see where you are going, if you are by the concession stands, which are on the left side of that photo.  If you are on the penalty box side, you won’t see what you just stepped in.  Considering the name of the place is The Stable, perhaps that is a good thing.

It seems you can’t go to a hockey game without some guy in a body suit.  It was barely cute after the fifth time the guys in Vancouver did it.  Now it’s just stupid.  At least have a gimmick, or show a sense of humor.  Just walking around in a body suit?  Who cares? 

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This turned into a goal.

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The third goal, in fact, which led to a change in goal.

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Which was a good move, because this guy stopped every shot he saw.  

That change in goal led to a fight, which led to a wrestling match. 

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The Roughriders must not be hurting for cash.  They sell pretty well, but they also have sponsorships and advertising everywhere.  It is so ubiquitous, they even have signage on their shovels. 

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How much do you think that costs?  

Let’s say you score a goal, and you are a Roughrider.  The horn sounds, the cowbells ring, and at some point, something like this plays:

This did NOT play tonight. No, they had some longer version before the game.  After the Ridertown USA song had played.  I don’t get it.  I’m sure there is some hockey history at work here, some sort of tradition started with guys wearing horned helmets and uncomfortably revealing shorts that led to whatever this is.  But I’ve been to some of the most shameless minor league arenas (other than the Las Vegas Wranglers) and have NEVER seen anything like that.  Never.  

I need an adult.

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Action!

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Part of why I wanted to go to the RR game?  I have this guy’s jersey.

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I don’t think he was any great shakes, but his photo is on the wall.  As far as I can tell, every former RR’s photo is on the wall.  

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Ladies….

Ladies...

If you aren’t familiar with the juniors, this might look odd to you.  At least one linesman is out on the ice for warmups in the USHL.  I think it’s a good idea, and I wish every league did that.  I believe that is linesman Brent Hooks.  I know you don’t care, I just wanted to say his name, because it is an awesome name for a linesman.  Hooks. 

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Rather than a jumbotron with video, they have two video projectors at either end.  It’s a good way to get around an expensive video scoreboard, but it isn’t the best looking thing.  Also, no replays of goals, for or against.  Explain that one to me.  

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OK, enough of this.  I’m obviously in a mood, and I don’t want to prolong the pain for either of us.  Here’s hoping tomorrow’s game in Lincoln is better.  I mean, it has to be, right?  Riders win it 3-2.  They were up 3-0 going into the third, but decided to make a game of it.  Also, the TC player Moore?  Kind of a punk.  

My only regret was everything.

From the Travel Blog:

Period 1 

Period 2 

Period 3 

Boxscore

Admirals Torpedo Wolves 4-3

There was a part of me that didn’t want to go to tonight’s game.  It was a small part, the part that was a little tired and knew there was a new book on my kindle to read (The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, and I can’t wait to get to it).  Also, the part that was a little bit lonely.  I admit, it does get a little tiresome with no one to talk to on the road, and while I enjoy having my time to myself, driving for hours between cities does take it’s toll.  These games would be a lot more fun to share with people. 

So I share them with you here.  And when I look at the stats of the travel blog, I don’t see hits or traffic, I see people who come along for the ride.  I see hockey fans I get to share the games with, and the places I get to see that they aren’t able to (yet, I hope).  So if you are one of the people who go to the travel blog while I’m on this journey, thanks.  You make a difference in my enjoyment of this trip.

I didn’t want to go to the game, but I’m glad I did.  It wasn’t the most amazing game.  There wasn’t a lot of aggression, and it was one of the cleaner games I’ve seen in a while.  What it had was a serious tone.  You could sense it immediately in warmups.  Perhaps it was my perspective from only seeing CHL hockey live this year, rather than the NHL.  Perhaps the difference in play from the CHL to the AHL is really that stark, or maybe it’s that there are enough fourth line NHLers in the A right now that it makes that big a difference.  But the tone was completely different.  It had a professionalism I haven’t seen in a while.  

First things first: the arena.  The Admirals play in an NBA arena.  It was built for an NBA team, and it feels like it.  Arena

When you sit in the seats, you sink an inch or two lower than you think you should.  It reminds me of sitting down at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, home of the Islanders.  You wonder when you are going to stop.  For some reason, this screams of “basketball first” design.  The boards in hockey are closer than the floor of a basketball court.  You could see everything a basketball game had to offer, but for hockey, you will be looking past the heads of the patrons in front of you.  

Jay Vean of the Avs Hockey Podcast made the comment on the travel blog that there were “Plenty of good seats still available.”  And he is right, but that’s just how it goes.  You aren’t going to fill up the home of the Milwaukee Bucks when the Admirals take the ice.  No minor league team would, unless it was the finals, and even then, good luck.  Sellouts are a rare enough thing in minor league hockey.  This smacks of impossibility.  

That is a big scoreboard. I wonder how players who call smaller and less fortified places like Rockford or Peoria home feel when they come to a place like Milwaukee, which plays in a major league arena.  Is it intimidating?  Does jealousy set in?

Scoreboard

This is a special seating area.  Other than that, I have no idea what it means.  Anyone? 

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Refs pre-game post-huddle. 

Refs

Action!  And let’s go to our first goal.  Look at the left of the net, that’s the puck in there.

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No doubt about it, that’s a goal. 

GOOOOAAALLLLL!!!!!!

The fans tell the Wolves goalie that he sucks.  It’s not entirely true, but there were times they had a point. 

Hey, you suck!

Random action photos.  Click to embiggen.

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Thinking about face offs deep into the future.  

The Future looks Face-Offy

Intermission antics:

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OK, enough of that, back to the game. 

 

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This is the game winning goal, with 1:33 left in the game.  A shot on goal is stopped by the goalie’s stick, but it hops up in the air a bit.  See it in front of his blocker?

Hop

Bounce

And the Admirals crash the net. Chaos ensues. 

Chaos Ensuing.

And number 51 who you see right there swats the puck in.

GOOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!!

And there was much rejoicing. 

That's a lot of rejoicing.

The Wolves did what they could, but to no avail. 

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And that’s the game.  Admirals win 4-3.  

Updates from the travel blog:

Period 1 (somehow didn’t upload)

Period 2

Period 3

Boxscore from the AHL website

With that, I’m off to bed.  I’m exhausted, and I’m going to try to make it to stick and puck time tomorrow before heading to Cedar Rapids.  See you on the road.

 

    

Flocked Up: Quad City Mallards vs. Wichita Thunder

As you can probably tell, things did not go well for the boys from QC tonight.  

Other possible titles for this post: 

Mallards Mallase
Molting Mallards
Bird of a Feather Lose Together
What The Hell Was That?

I kid, but really, what was that?  The Mallards had a rough go of it tonight, in a game that could have gone their way.  Had they played the entire game like they played the first few minutes of the first two periods, they would have dominated.  But a few bounces, a few strange plays, and a glove hand that just wasn’t enough at times, and this game was out of hand quickly.  The Thunder take it 5-1.  

I am usually not one to dog on the refs, but there was an obvious point in this game where things could quickly get out of hand.  While looking right at the play, the ref didn’t call a boarding call that shouldn’t have gone gotten by him.  I thought things were going to turn into a circus, but that thankfully didn’t happen.  I can’t credit the officiating crew for keeping things calm, but I will say they could have done a much better job.

To the photos.  Hey, who’s that? Why, it’s my old pal Aaron Boogaard.  I seem to see him everywhere.  In fact, he scored his first goal of the season tonight.  I would like to think that I’m his good luck charm, but if I told him that, he would probably beat me up.  Better just keep that to myself.

 

Boogard1

The Mallards have a giant inflatable duck head wearing a helmet that vomits players onto the ice. That is the only way I can describe it.

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The I Wireless Arena (formerly known by it’s better name, the MARK) is a nice place, big and comfortable.  Too big, it turns out, so they black out some of the seats with curtains.  You might be familiar with the Florida Panthers doing the same thing.  Also the Hartford Wolfpack Connecticut Whale.  Giant pillowy curtains really make for an intimate setting. Or something.

Mallards107   Mallards106

Did I mention spacious and comfortable?  Yeah, this is the polar opposite of the Des Moines Buccaneers arena, as you can see here, and here. 

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Nice knob. 

Knobby

OK, a little action.  

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Mallards151

Mallards138

I have to admit, I didn’t get a lot of photos from this game.  The glass put some warp into the images, and I got kind of fed up with it.  In fact, it’s some of the tallest glass I’ve ever seen on the sides of a rink.  Tall and crappy.  Kind of like (insert player from your hated rival here).  Yeah, good one. 

Here is the chuck-a-puck aftermath.  And while six of those are mine, on’y one of mine won a free sub. That’s right, I’m a winner.  Mad skills. 

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I kind of like this one.  It’s like artistic chuck-a-puck photography.  I don’t think I should start of business around it, though.  Niche audience for sure. 

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A half salute for a half effort.  Actually, that isn’t fair. The Mallards put effort into it tonight.  They just didn’t hold on to any momentum they earned early in the periods.  

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Swag report – I picked up this puck.  

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How do you like that key card for my room? ‘Merica.

And then I got the mascot to hold it for a photo. 

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Rocking.  

Recaps from the travel blog:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 3

Boxscore

 You can follow along on the travel blog.  Lots of smaller posts, with some real gems along the way. 

I Don’t Want to Talk About It

Locked Out!

Locked Out!

There are three kinds of hockey we can talk about: Hockey I can see, hockey I can’t see, and the lockout, which is to say, no hockey at all.  And I want to talk about hockey.

Of course I don’t like the lockout, but what really annoys me is that we’ve heard and read everything about this lockout from the last one.  There is hardly anything original being published, only the names and places change.  We have virtually the same issues  (even the salary cap is being challenged in the media) and virtually the same complaints from the fans, media, players and owners about each other.  Nothing new under the sun.

What does that leave?  There are the minors, and the only minor leagues I’m projected to see this season are the Denver Cutthroats, maybe the Colorado Eagles, and one or two minor league games across the country (San Francisco Bull, I’m looking at you).  Someone recently told me that their favorite posts of mine were the travel posts, when I took in a game in a minor league or junior city (like Johnstown, PA (part 1 and part 2) or recent trips to Odessa, TX and Sioux Falls, SD) or took a road trip through several cities (like my west coast hockey tour).  Now that I’m home in Denver, my travel is cut way back.

There is the hockey I can’t see, which is all the minor league hockey I love that I can only read reports of, just like you.    Fairly pointless, other than to bemoan the lack of hockey I get to see, and update you on stats and reports I am not going to have any more insight than anyone else reading the same thing as me.  So yeah, not going to do that.

The other hockey I can talk about is rec league hockey, and you don’t care about that.  I care, only because I started on my first rec league team this year.  I will say that now, I have 2 PIM (for tripping), which ties me for the lead on my team, and my first official stat ever. I am a goon.  I’m sure this will pop up from time to time.

So what to do?  Keep talking about a lockout that has no end in sight?  I don’t want to do that, but I want to talk about something hockey related.  I want to podcast about hockey as well (and I haven’t really wanted to for a while).

I’m at a loss.  More than anything, I’m going to miss going to minor league games around the country.  The travel is expensive, and I don’t have the discretionary money I used to for hotels, food and gas (and tickets).  If I could, I would go all over the country watching all levels of hockey, and report back to you.  I would take you on a hockey tour of the nation.  For now, I might catch up on some of the games I didn’t post about when I saw them.  There are a few from the West Coast Hockey Tour that never made it to the blog (due to time constraints, we jump ahead in the action).

What do you want to talk about?  The CBA is boring, and every NHL meeting leads to dashed hopes. It’s too frustrating.  So I ask, what should we do here?  What are you still interested in?

Texas Brahmas vs. Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees: You Cannot Unsee

First, a warning.  I am going to have a photo or two in this post which probably is Safe For Work, but I don’t 100% guarantee it.  And I don’t know if you are going to like it or not.  But damn it, I was there, and I will share with you the sights I have seen, whether you like it or not.  “Enjoy.”

Tonight was a strange night for Fort Worth hockey for two reasons.  First, it was Star Wars Night.  We will get to that in a moment.  The other reason it was strange was that the game was played at the old home of the Brahmas, the Fort Worth Convention Center.

The Fort Worth Brahmas used to play at the FWCC until the 2006-07 season, when they couldn’t work out a lease agreement with the Convention Center.  They suspended operations for the next season, and came back in the 2008-09 season as the Texas Brahmas, playing at a rink in the suburbs that isn’t much more than a rec rink with more seating.

The first Brahmas game I went to was in the 2005-06 season at the FWCC, and I’ve seen one at their new home.  The Convention Center is a bit big for the Brahmas, but the new location, the NYNEX Sports Center is too small.  The Brahmas are popular.  They are very popular for a minor league team, in a way that the Dallas Stars probably wish they were.  They have fans who have been around for a long time, and will continue to be for a long time.  They could use the space the FWCC has to offer, but a lease can make or break a minor league hockey team.  So in a small venue they will stay.

Let’s go to the game!

Walking up to the FWCC:

I mentioned that it was Star Wars night, and that conjures up images of awful rebel themed jerseys, wacky sound effects, and in-game promotions centered around using the force, right?  No, it just means Stormtroopers in the lobby.

Stormtroopers that liked to point their guns at you:

 

Yeah.  Oh, and there was a ZZ Top cover band in the lobby as well, which just goes perfectly with the Star Wars theme, right?

The lobby isn’t all that interesting.  But the inside of the venue is… not all that interesting either.

There is a certain symmetry to the place, but that weird ceiling makes it feel  open and cavernous, like you could yell at the ref all night and it would just bounce around up there.  Come to think of it, I didn’t hear nearly as much abuse of the officials from the crowd as I usually do.  I wonder why?  No, really, I wonder why.

Thirty-four seconds into the first period, we had our first fight.  The weird part about the fight was it featured a very familiar name, Aaron Boogaard.

It was startling to realize who we were watching, and for the most part, the fight looked like a hugging match.  But look a the next picture, even though it’s out of focus.  Someone was bleeding.

Boogaard had to leave his jersey at the bench to get cleaned up (you can’t use a jersey with blood all over it), and when he was released from the box, we got a look at his pads.  NHLers have all the latest and greatest gear, all light and fresh.  It probably even smells halfway respectable.  But not in the minors.

Those are old school.

How about some more game action:

I mentioned in the Odessa Jackalopes post that they throw rubber carrots on the ice after goals, and in Laredo, they throw rubber corn.  Here they throw rubber purple Brahmas.  That’s a bull for the rest of you.

There’s another tradition after goals with the Brahmas fans.  I don’t know when they do it, but tonight, after the third goal, some of the fans take off their shirts and twirl them over their heads.  Not a big deal, right?  We’ve seen this happen before at games, it’s nothing special.  But lets just say that this isn’t the demographic that normally does this sort of thing.

Remember that warning I gave at the top?  This is why.

You can not unsee that.  But if you’re going to be a fan, be a fan and don’t apologize for anything.  I was smiling and laughing the whole time, and so was everyone else.  And if you ever go to a Texas Brahmas game and they score a few goals, I hope you do to.

In other news, you can’t go to a damn arena without some tool putting on a body suit.  We get it, enough already.

I tweeted earlier that with all the Stormtroopers around, this was the most dangerous hockey game ever.  It was true for one fan who slipped on the concrete steps and broke her ankle.  I’m no doctor, but when the ankle swells up and turns purple that fast, it’s broke.

Mascot:

Another fight, leading to some game misconducts.  When a guy is down, don’t keep beating on him.

It was a bad night for the officials tonight.  The ref got tangled up in a check and may have a few bruised ribs.  And a linesman took a full slap shot in the back.  They don’t wear that much padding, and it stung him pretty good.   Also, one of the Brahmas took a puck in the Galiardis.  He skated it off, but I know it hurt.  It was also one of the better called games in the minors I have ever seen.

This game was titled the Fort Worth Faceoff, since it was a special two-nighter with the Brahmas playing in their old stomping grounds.  Maybe next time, they can play the crosstown Allen Americans.  The Brahmas wore special jerseys that were auctioned off after the game.  I did not stick around for that.

Your final, Brahmas 4, RGV Killer Bees 1.  You tell who won from the photo alone.

Tomorrow I’m off to Austin and Houston, and then six weeks in New Orleans.  Not a hockey-centric existence for a while, but it was nice to see some of the best the other side of hockey has to offer.  And there are more venues out there to find, more games to see, and more unusual history to be searched out.

Boxscore.

Huntsville Havoc vs. Pensacola Ice Pilots: My First SPHL Game

Near the end of the season, I diverted to Huntsville, AL to take in a SPHL game, the first I had ever seen of that league.  I’d been through Huntsville a few times, but never to see a game.

Yesterday,  I showed you a few of the ‘lovely’ trophies the various Huntsville teams had won (and abused), but not the game.  This post will correct that.

The path to the arena was one of the strangest I have ever been in.  Construction routed us around to… well, you can see for yourself.

To the box office:

Main Hall

Past the Legends of Huntsville Hockey festivities:

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Umm…. OK…..

End of Hall

Wait, this can’t be right….

What?

I mean, I was walking past dumpsters.  And this is how we get into the arena?

Nice Place

Even the entrance is marked exit:

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The concourse looks decidedly seventies sci-fi.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they built the place for filming scenes from Buck Rogers.  I loved it.  Of course there’s chuck a puck.

beede-beede-beede

The arena is split into a lower and upper level, with a walkway going 3/4 of the way around the bowl.

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But the lower bowl looks pretty nice, and has some table seating by the glass.

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My journey was not complete, since I was sitting behind the goal.  So I took the long and strange walk to my seat.  The blue curtains hid the construction going on.  I think it’s going to be a pretty nice place when they are done.

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Finally, I got to my seat, on the risers on the end of the rink:

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But the view was great, even with the goal judge box in the way:

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Meet Ryan Scott:

Ryan Scott

Poor Ryan got heckled the entire game.  Whenever the rush started, the fans behind me yelled “Look out, Scott!”  “That was close, Scott!”  Even just the random, “SCOTT!” for no other reason than to yell is name.  The night even included one of the greatest heckles of a goalie I have ever heard, even if it was a bit sexist.

The kids in front of me weren’t that amused at first, but they came around.  The one on the right kept saying, “Seriously?” But considering the look on his face, I don’t think he meant it.

Seriously!

All the way down the ice:

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Mascots!

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The Canucks have their green men, the Wichita Thunder have their one lone blue guy, and the Havoc… have this:

Wolf Dude has Nards

He kept the mask on the entire game. At one point, he ran around the arena  with his flag, and the kids chased him.  Hey, you gotta have your traditions, I guess.

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I’m posting this photo for Doogie2K. The Calgary Hitmen travel well.

Hitmen Jersey

The game ended in a shootout, without a single fighting major.  Take that, haters.  In fact, the level of play wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.  There were plenty of missed passes, missed opportunities, and defensive breakdowns, but there was a lot to like about the game as well.  The problem with the NHL is that it can be so over-coached, you wait for a mistake to create a scoring chance.  There were plenty of mistakes, but also plenty of chances the entire game.  Overall, I had a great time.

Thanks to Christopher Joy (aka SCOTT!) for the invite.  I can’t wait to go to another game with him.

Here’s the game sheet.

Huntsville Havoc and the Carnage

A few months ago, I stopped in Huntsville, Alabama to see a Huntsville Havoc hockey game.  If you didn’t go back and read that first sentence again, you are doing OK.  Yes, there is hockey in Huntsville.  There has been a lot of hockey in Huntsville, actually.

The game I went to was the day before the Legends of Huntsville Hockey game (again, if you need to take a moment to absorb that…). The Legends game is a charity game to help support autism.  And they had these kick-ass jerseys:

White Jersey Front

White Jersey Back

The team was auctioning them off after the game, which I wasn’t able to stick around for.  But if I could have, I would have gotten one.  That is a unique jersey.  The black one is even better.

Black Jersey

They also had a few… trophies…. on display.  Don’t ask me what they are, but we should all be lucky they are still with us.

Trophy with Dents

 

Trophy held together, barely, with masking tape

I asked one former player (and I’m sorry, I don’t know who it was) what the deal with these were.  He basically said that they are a little less careful with these things, since they weren’t the Stanley Cup.  No, they aren’t.

I will post photos from the game later, including one of the oddest arena entrances I have ever seen.  Thanks to Christopher Joy (aka Scott!) for inviting me to the game.  Hopefully, he can fill in a few of the missing pieces.

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This wasn’t the post I wanted to make, but it actually was more fun.  The one I spent an hour or so on, about the Central Hockey League and how they seem to be falling apart, might be a post for a later date, but it wasn’t coming together for me.  I guess that’s just how it goes, and when you don’t have to crank out six to twenty posts a day, you have that luxury.

 

Around the Minor League Championships

Last night ended the final championship series in the minor leagues.  A few leagues wrapped up quite a while ago, and wrap up who won what.

 

In the AHL, the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup, beating the Houston Aeros four games to two.  The Senators won behind a rookie goaltender, and a first term head coach.   But their lineup also had 15 players who had played in the NHL this year at some point.

In the ECHL, the Alaska Aces beat the Kalamazoo Wings four games to one, to win the Kelly Cup.  The Aces had won the Cup in 2006, and lost in the finals in 2009.  This was Brent Thompson‘s second year behind the bench as head coach.

The Central Hockey League pushed their championship series to seven games, with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs winning the Ray Miron President’s Cup over the Colorado Eagles.  The oddity here is that the Eagles will be leaving the CHL to move to the ECHL, while the Mudbugs could be leaving for a less expensive league, like the NAHL (American junior hockey).  The CHL has seen a lot of change this season, and more may be on the way.  Terry Frei of the Denver Post talked about the Mudbugs after their victory.

One of the first leagues to wrap up their season was the Southern Professional Hockey League.  In the SPHL, the Mississippi Surge swept the Augusta RiverHawks 3-0.   In other news, the Mississippi Surge is being sold, and the SPHL Board of Governors approved of the sale, to the owner of the Pensacola Ice Flyers.  So alls well that ends well, right?  Right?

In the junior leagues, the Dubuque Fighting Saints won the USHL title, while in the NAHL, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs won the Robertson Cup.

UPDATE: As was pointed out by Scott in the comments, I made a big mistake.  The Surge are being sold to a group that owns the Pensacola Ice Flyers, not the Augusta RiverHawks.  Thanks for the correction, SM. #SCOTT!

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Today’s bonus content is something that has helped me focus on my writing, or most anything I need to sit down and do by myself.  When it’s too easy to get distracted, or pulled away by outside forces, I use something called the Pomodoro technique.  It’s actually really simple, but the structure is what matters:

– Set a timer for 25 minutes.  If you have a smart phone, you have a timer.  I also have a little program called Pomodoro that puts a 25 minute timer in my menu bar on my laptop (you can find it in the Mac App Store).  But really, any timer will do.

– Work on ONE THING for that 25 minutes.  Don’t switch tasks, don’t go check email or feeds or twitter.  No multitasking.  Just do that one thing.

– After the 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break.  Check email, facebook, whatever.   After the 5 minutes, do another Pomodoro.

– After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break.  You’ve earned it.

That’s it.  It’s amazing how much working on one thing only can help you, and knowing that you will have a little time to do all the other things that get in your way when you are writing.  Distraction free environments are only so good if you choose not to be distracted.

What I find is that after the 25 minutes, I’m not ready to take a break.  But that’s what focus will do for you.