Rockford IceHogs vs. Texas Stars: Trek Into Darkness

Pull the blindfold down
So your eyes can’t see
Now run as fast as you can
Through this field of trees

Editors : Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors

There are all kinds of hockey arenas out there.  Big, small, beautiful, ugly.  Some have character, some have little to no character (I’m looking at you, Ontario, California), and some have so much character, they should have their own sitcom.

The BMO Harris Bank Center….. Wait a minute, wasn’t I just here?

No, the Milwaukee Admirals play in the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  The IceHogs play in the BMO Harris Bank Center.  And what a bank center it is.

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Wow.  That’s a… That’s some… OK, I don’t know what it is.  It’s…. utilitarian looking.  Yeah, it looks like it’s… functional.

I didn’t get much of a look at the outside of the building.  I was here eight years ago when the IceHogs were a part of the UHL, and I don’t remember much about the building then either.  It’s not the prettiest of things, but considering it is a smaller arena in the middle of downtown Rockford, IL, I wasn’t expecting the Sydney Opera House.

What matters is what’s inside.  So let’s head in.

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OK, here we go.  And…. wait…

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Hold on, what….

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Did someone forget to turn the lights on?

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Surely, they can’t mean for it to be this dark in here, right?

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Oh man.  Welcome to what you can see of the BMO Harris Bank Center.  This was the darkest rink I have ever been in.  It was like being in a production of Les Miserable (and I would know).  I felt a major separation from what was happening on the ice and what was happening in the crowd.  It made the far end of the ice seem like it was in another building.  Between myself and the fans, there was us and them, and them was only a section or two over.

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The pregame had players vomited from the mouth of an angry pig.  I am all for players being vomited forth from inflatables.  There was a time when I wasn’t, but I believe I have come around.

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Once the pregame is over, the lights on the ice snap to full brightness, further alienating the crowd from the hockey.  The lights here appeared to be LED fixtures, which looked a lot better than I expected them to.

When I go to a game, I like to sit on the sides, preferably on the penalty box side.  Maybe this is conditioning from watching games on TV, but I feel close to the action at either end.  When I’m in an upper corner, the action on the far end feels very distant, and here I was five rows or so from the top of the arena.  Not where I would normally choose to sit.

The reason I didn’t sit where I usually would was that this was a free game.  Yes, you read that right, every ticket to the game was free.  I had no idea this was happening.  I had never heard of such a thing.  A professional hockey team hosting a free regular season game?  When I showed up to the BMO Harris Bank Center, I was greeted with a sign that said the game was sold out.  My heart sank, but I went to the box office and they handed me a single ticket.  My row, in fact, had only four other people sitting in it.  There were plenty of no-shows for the game.

But as I said, I was far away from the action on the other end.

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But on my end, it was a fun game.

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The most brightly lit area of the arena is the team store.

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What the heck is this?

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Speaking of the Blackhawks, the parent club for the IceHogs, they were hosting the Dallas Stars that evening, parent club to the Texas Stars.  I wonder if it was planned that way.

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Second period action.  That is Antti Raanta in net.

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Framed pictures of some past specialty jerseys.

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Is this taking the pig thing too far?

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Mmmm….. Tasty…

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Around the rink.

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This is a goal.  Good try by Stars goaltender Jack Campbell.

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Twice at breaks in the action, they played Billy Idol’s cover of Mony Mony, to which the crowd would chant “Hey-Guess-What-Your-Goalie-Sucks.”  I guess they really mean it.

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The Stars tried to make it interesting in the end, pulling within one with a few minutes left.

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Your final, the IceHogs beat the Texas Stars 3-2.  Game sheet is here. The one unusual moment was the unsportsmanlike penalty given to IceHog Pierre-Cedric Labrie at the end of the first period, for shooting the puck on net after the horn.  I’m not sure the crowd realized it happened, and there wasn’t an explanation given at the start of the period.  The IceHogs were simply starting the second killing a penalty.

I had a good time at the game.  It was, as I said, the darkest arena I have ever been in, and the hockey felt very textbook at times, but it was a solid game with a crowd that liked their hockey.  Can you ask for much more than that?

Maybe someone turn on a light switch.

Milwaukee Admirals vs. Iowa Wild: You Shall Not Pass

Last night I returned to an unlikely arena, the Milwaukee Admirals home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Not because it has such and unwieldy name, but because the last time I was here, I didn’t expect to return.  One change of lifestyle later (traveling all the time – ALL THE TIME), and here I am.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center (there has to be something better to call it) is also the home of the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA team that no one has heard of.  The owners of the Bucks want a new arena, and they want the fans to pay for it, because that’s the way things work when it comes to arenas and sports teams.  The building is 26 years old, and it isn’t the prettiest thing ever, but it’s not bad.  Of course, that depends on who you ask.  From the Milwaukee Business Journal:

For years, officials from the Milwaukee Bucks, team owner Herb Kohl and other city leaders have claimed that the city’s downtown basketball arena is outdated and not fit for an NBA team. On Wednesday, a top NBA official, soon to be the league’s top executive, made the case clear.

“One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee,” said Adam Silver, deputy National Basketball Association commissioner, speaking of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

For more, check out the coverage on Field of Schemes.

I’ve already stated I do not care for the NBA, so it’s hard to say what I think of the arena as a basketball venue.  As a minor league hockey arena, it’s gigantic and has much more capacity and amenities than the team needs, or they are willing to use.

For instance, there are eight box office windows, four inside and four outside.  Of the four inside, one was open for will call tickets.

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Outside, there were four windows, two of which were open and selling tickets.  It was a slow and cold process.

One person in line said that at the new arena, this wouldn’t  be a problem.  I told him know it was a staffing problem, not a building problem.  When you have only half your box office open, a multimillion dollar building isn’t going to fix what a $15 an hour (but probably less) job would solve.

I’ve already been to an Admirals game, so you can read up a bit more on my first experience here.  I mostly want to share photos.

Welcome (back) to BMO Harris Bradley Center.

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Let’s just get to the action, shall we?

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This was a goal.

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This was not.

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Goalie action. This was a goal.  (Look under his pad)

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This was not.

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Could this be the best jersey in the AHL?  Maybe, but I would prefer a color I could wear more often.  That logo is awesome.

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The hallways of the arena.

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Most of the amenities were closed for the game, but the big bars were open.

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This is not the Zamboni.

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Team store.

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The Admirals lost to the Wild, 3-2.  Milwaukee gave up a goal in the first thirty seconds of the game, and struggled to gain control of the puck throughout.  They played dump-and-chase hockey most of the game, and kept dumping out of their own zone straight to the Iowa players.  It wasn’t pretty hockey.

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While I had a good time at the game, there was nothing transcendent about it.  Nothing special.  But I go to a lot of new places, and this being a repeat, there wasn’t the sense of discovery I usually have at a game.

This weekend will be different.

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?

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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. 

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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.

 

    

Jets Should Stay the Jets

You aren’t going to be able to please all of the people all of the time.  It’s best to not try to in the first place, and just do what you are going to do.  But sometimes, it seems like you can’t please most of the people, no matter what you do.

Take the ‘new’ Winnipeg hockey team (and that’s the only time I’m going to put new in quotes).  They haven’t picked a name for their team, or at least publicly haven’t done so.  There are plenty of people on one side of the fence that want True North S&E to stay true to the old Winnipeg team, and name them the Jets.  Others want to see them continue using the current TNS&E team’s name, the Manitoba Moose.  Still others want a new name, so they can move on from the past.  That’s right, it’s a three-sided fence.

Winnipeg Jets

I would be fine with this.  Why not bring back the old Jets name.  It’s what fans in Winnipeg crave, and the NHL loves to trade on nostalgia.  Nostalgia sells, and frankly, the team in Winnipeg has to sell itself not only to the fans in Winnipeg (and so far, so good), but also the businesses in Winnipeg.  It’s easier to sell the return of the Jets than it is to sell the new guys in town.  On paper, in writing, that doesn’t make any sense.  But look into the hearts of hockey fans, and show me something that makes sense?

Minnesota Moose Logo

Manitoba Moose

The Moose are dead, long live the Moose.  Minor league team names are fleeting.  The Moose have stayed around through at least one move.  I even have a Minnesota Moose jersey.  But that was the franchise moving, and this is a totally different team.  The Moose also had one of the coolest logos in the minors, this side of the Orlando Solar Bears.  And if you aren’t going to bring back the Moose logo of old, I say keep it in the AHL.  Let them be the St. John’s Moose.

A new name

This option is fine, but not as desirable, to me, as bringing back the Jets.  While some argue that a new team name would bring with it new traditions, I think there will be plenty of traditions to be made up with the first few years of the franchise.  Traditions are born of the play on the ice, and the creativity of the moment.  They will evolve on their own.  I wouldn’t fear for the fans.  They will take matters into their own hands soon enough.

 

No matter what True North does, there will be many words written, teeth gnashed, and hands wrung.  No matter what they do, they will be wrong, and there will be complaints.  It will become schtick, and while the rest of the world moves on, a few will not.

But in the end, no matter what they call the team, people will still call them the Jets.

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A few people have started the Dead Blog Challenge a little late, but that isn’t what matters.  What matters is that they started.  Because starting is hard.  When you don’t know what to write, you don’t really feel like writing.  But starting to write is the best way to figure out what you should be writing about.  And tomorrow, in the SCFblog bonus content, I’ll show you what I mean.  But starting, well, that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?

But today, it’s about starting.  So do yourself a huge favor.  Take 25 minutes and listen to this talk about starting from Merlin Mann.  I won’t kid you, there are a few adult themes in there, but nothing too graphic.  And there is a ton of good stuff as well.  It also contains my favorite line about writer’s block.  “You have to write your way out of a thinking block, because you can never think your way out of a writing block.”  That’s knowledge right there.

 

Texas Stars vs. Houston Aeros: A Study in Penalty Killing

Tonight’s game between the Texas Stars and the Houston Aeros was more of an interesting affair then the majority of the game seemed. That sounds kind of strange, but it’s actually true. For the vast majority of the game, the Houston Aeros controlled the play, and the Texas Stars, who couldn’t make tape-to-tape passes to save their lives, looked fairly ordinary and disorganized. But for some reason, the Stars pulled out a 3-2 overtime win over the Aeros, who looked better the entire game.

The main interest for me was the different styles of penalty killing each team involved, and their effectiveness. The Stars, who were sloppy on the power play, felt the pressure of an aggressive Aeros penalty kill. That was most apparent from a five minute major penalty the Aeros had to kill off, which resulted in one goal for the Stars, and a lot of time for Texas chasing the puck down the ice. Houston, a more technically sound passing team, was able to keep possession of the puck, but was mostly kept to the outside by the Stars, playing more of a positional kill, and were effective in getting into the shooting lanes. Still, the Stars were 2 for 5 on the power play, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the game.

Wait, isn’t this a travelogue? You aren’t here to hear me spout off about a minor league penalty kill? Hey, I’m down with that. But before we get to the pictures, one more thing.

The Cedar Park Center, located in the middle of nowhere, charges it’s patrons ten dollars for parking. Ten dollars. Add that to your ticket price, because there is no other way to get there, and no alternative parking. It’s a monopoly, and it’s a ridiculous way to gouge fans for the privilege of going to the game. If there were a cheaper but less convenient alternative, I may not mind as much, but when you hold all the cards, and you are overcharging for nothing, it’s a piss poor way to treat your fans and clients. I complained to the customer service desk, and was told that it’s less expensive than other venues, including the Dallas Stars. I’ve been all over the nation, seeing hockey games in as many places as possible, and I can tell you this is absolutely not true. It’s a disgusting scam, and venues that have no alternative should end the practice, or charge a more reasonable amount.

OK, on to the pictures.

This won’t last:

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The arena itself is nice enough, but a little bland. It lacks the character of an older arena, but that seems to be the case with most new arenas. I could have been in Ontario, CA, or Broomfield, CO, or even Gwinnett, GA. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s meant to. What the hell happened to character? Hockey is a sport of character, and old hockey barns have it in droves. New buildings barely have the chance to develop any character, unless it’s manufactured by the designer. These new arenas don’t feel designed so much as sanitized. It’s too bad really, as buildings like the War Memorial in Johnstown, PA (you saw it in Slap Shot, even though it was in “Charlestown” for the movie), the Igloo in Pittsburgh, or whatever the arena in Port Huron, MI is called.

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Warmups:
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Hey, if you are going to overcharge for parking, perhaps your Zamboni shouldn’t be a reminder of that fact.

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OK, game time. You can click on any picture for a larger version.

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Check out the puck just over the goalie’s glove:

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Blood on the ice:

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One of the Aeros took a match penalty for intent to injure. Moving on.

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This took way too long to fix. So long we had to listen to an entire Def Leopard song. Other than that gaff, the Stars had the best alternative music mix I have ever heard at a hockey game. Ever.
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This wasn’t a penalty. The refs put their whistles away for overtime. Like the hockey gods intended.
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This is one of my favorite shots from the game. The puck is between his blocker and his stick.

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This is your overtime game winner, in the back of the net.
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So yeah, the Texas Stars win it in OT, 3-2. With the game winner:

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As “nice” as the arena was, as acceptable as the game was, I had a good time at the game. I’m off tomorrow, but I hope to find some ice to skate on tomorrow.

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AHL Quad City Flames May Move On

The Calgary Flames are about to end a tradition in the Quad Cities: Hockey.

The Flames are attempting to end their affiliation with the Quad City Flames in Moline, IL. From the Calgary Herald, dated March 12th:

The Calgary Flames farm team in Quad Cities, Illinois is set to flicker into oblivion at the end of the season.

After months of speculation, the Flames released the Quad City ownership group Thursday from the remaining three years of their minor-league affiliate agreement with the NHL club.

On Thursday, Flames president Ken King confirmed his intention of signing a new 10-year affiliation agreement with a group of investors in Abbotsford, B.C.

So this isn’t a brand new thing, but it is a big blow for a city that has a great facility, passionate hockey fans, and a tradition of hockey since 1995 with the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards were part of the UHL in it’s heyday, before the city adopted the AHL, and the Mallards ended. Looking back, with the UHL turning into a joke league of six teams and barely staying afloat, it may have looked like a good idea at the time.

Also from the Calgary Herald:

Down in Quad Cities, with an average attendance of 2,810, the Flames rank 28th in the 29-team AHL. The local ownership estimates losses this season at US $1.3 million.

I can understand wanting to close shop with those kind of losses. The QC Mallards, in their 2005/06 season averaged 3,542 fans per game, and slipped to 3,120 per game in their final season. These seem like small numbers when we are used to NHL sized attendance, but when taken in the context of a small league with a salary cap counted in thousand per week, those were sustainable numbers. In the 2005/06 season, the Mallards ranked 4th overall in attendance (the top slot was held by the Ft. Wayne Komets, a team with a strong tradition of hockey and a gigantic arena).

The QC Flames were formerly the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, who left after two seasons in Nebraska for similar reasons. You can only imagine the Calgary Flames dropping hockey teams in unsuspecting towns across America, then snatching them back up, leaving the bodies of ice workers, mascots, and marketing people in their wake.

While I can understand the Calgary Flames wanting to move the team closer, and even to hockey mad Canada, the nearest AHL team is the Manitoba Moose, in Winnipeg, which Google Maps places at a 24 hour drive away. The new team will be the western-most team in the AHL by far, adding massive travel expenses.

On that note, from the Vancouver Sun, also dated March 12th:

“We’ve had substantial discussions with Abbotsford We’re in a situation where we’re completely comfortable with the terms of an arrangement “ The move to Abbotsford requires approval of the American Hockey League board of governors, and there could be resistance from teams opposed to the travel.

“I don’t know if I would term it resistance, but I think they’re going to need to be convinced because of the geography,” King said. “They’re going to need to be convinced things like travel subsidies are nailed down.”

The potential Abbotsford ownership group has agreed to pay travel subsidies to help alleviate the cost of cross-country flights for the opposition.

To put the travel in a little more context, here is a screen capture of an AHL map from OurSportsCentral:

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How’s BC looking now?

If I were an AHL owner, I would be seriously concerned. A new arena, a new location, a city that built an arena without a tenant trying to land a team. I can imagine the local ownership looking to Manitoba, who is averaging 7,512 a game (second in the league), and wringing their hands. Yeah, if I were an AHL owner, I would be doing some serious due diligence.

BTW, the QC Flames were only second to last in league attendance. First would be the Lowell Devils, who bring in an average 2,160, eight hundred less than the QC Flames. If you are wondering who is next on the chopping block, keep an eye trained to Lowell. They have had their issues in the past, even though they are signed in the Tsongas Arena through 2009-10.

So thanks for the memories, QC. Pending approval, you can expect to be hockeyless next season. And you had such high hopes.

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All numbers were taken from the Pointstreak archive, and www.theahl.com.   

Minor League Update

So, the Cup has been handed out, but there are still some championships being played out. The Cincinnati Cyclones are up 3 games to 2 against the Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL, and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are down 3 games to none to the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. After that, some stuff is going on.

The Youngstown Steelhounds found out they are not going to be part of the Central Hockey League, via a press release. As anything with hockey, it seems that money is the problem. The Steelhounds had already started selling season tickets for next year, so that puts them in a bad situation. The fans aren’t happy.

The Iowa Stars are no longer the Iowa Stars, after they have dropped their affiliation with Dallas, and have picked up the Anaheim Ducks as the new parent team. A new name, logo, and team colors should be coming soon.

The Austin Ice Bats (Central Hockey League) isn’t playing nest season, due to a lack of rink. Why should you care? Do you enjoy books? The book Zamboni Rodeo was about the Ice Bats, and while not a storied franchise, they have earned their spot. They may be better off, though. I skated with the team after a game, and it was the absolute worst ice I have ever been on.

The IHL (the make believe version of the International Hockey League) has announced their schedule for next season, which means they are still sticking with six teams. Unless the Steelhounds are able to get in there, this should be an embarrassment. While they may not tickle the radar of fans of the NHL, teams like the Fort Wayne Komets, Kalamazoo Wings, and the Flint Generals are as important, not only to the cities where they reside, but also in the grand scheme of hockey. These are teams that have a history, have persevered, and have fans just a as passionate as any team in the NHL.

Nothing new about Colorado Eagles player Les Borsheim, but the doctors are saying his surgery went well. After that, time will tell.

Expect more updates from the wacky world of minor league hockey, the best value on ice, through the offseason.