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Cotuit

Lock out hurts N.E. minor league hockey teams

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Cotuit    0

Hockey lite not a draw for choosy Bruins fans

By Scott Van Voorhis | Monday, February 14, 2005

Fans of frozen fun are flocking to watch minor league skaters check, skate and score in North America's big hockey markets amid the labor strife that has blacked out the National Hockey League.

That is, everywhere except New England, arguably one of the biggest hockey hotbeds south of Montreal.

The region boasts one of the densest collections of minor league hockey teams anywhere - eight to be exact. But the fallout from demise of the Boston Bruins season has been much more of a mixed bag than in other markets, say officials at the Springfield-based American Hockey League, which oversees minor league teams across the continent.

While there has been plenty of excitement thanks to rosters beefed up this season with NHL mainstays, New England clubs, for the most part, have suffered from a drop off in attendance.

"We have not seen that 20 percent increase in attendance in and around Boston that we have seen in Chicago or Edmonton," said David Andrews, president of the AHL.

The NHL shutdown has been good news for AHL franchises inEdmonton, Philadelphia and Chicago. With the Oilers out of sight, Edmonton's Road Runners have seen a near doubling of the average number of fans at their games, to 8,626.

The AHL Wolves in Chicago and the AHL Phantoms in Philadelphia posted more modest, but respectable, gains.

Overall, average attendance at AHL games in the United States and Canada stands at 5,732 a game, up from 5,594 last year.

"We have seen a fairly significant uptick in attendance around the league," Andrews said.

One common theme for these teams - all play in or near cities where NHL clubs play. Or as is the case this year, don't play.

But while the Bruins have a famously faithful fan following, there is no comparable AHL team playing in the Hub like there is in Chicago or Philly.

In fact, most of the area's minor league hockey teams are located well outside Boston in Lowell, Worcester, Providence and Manchester, N.H. That distance means they are not necessarily geographically placed to pick up hordes of disgrunted Bruins fans, the AHL's Andrews said.

Coupled with this, the broadcast of Bruins games during the regular season typically helps generate excitement among fans beyond core die-hards - some of whom would then show up in AHL hockey halls across New England.

For some fans, the disappearance of the Bruins from their TV screens has been enough to push out thoughts of hockey altogether. Enough so that AHL clubs across New England have seen markedly fewer fans push in the seats at games, the league's attendance records show.

"As a whole, the sport loses a lot of visibility and that is not a positive thing," said Chuck Greenberg, head of the sports business practice at the Pittsburgh office of law firm Pepper Hamilton. "There are fans who go to get their fix at the minor league level, and there are other fans where it's a bit out of sight, out of mind."

In New England, the Manchester Monarchs, one of the AHL's strongest franchises - the team is hosting the league's All Star Game tonight, has seen attendance drop to an average to 8,800 this year from 9,140 last season .

On the other end of the spectrum, the soon-to-be defunct Worcester IceCats has seen a roughly 20 percent dropoff in the stands, to 3,958 from 4,832 last season.

Meanwhile, the Providence Bruins have seen the average game crowd drop to 7,105 from 7,497, the Lowell Lock Monsters now average 3,707 per game, down from 4,029 last year, and the Hartford Wolf Pack has seen attendance slide to 4,534 today from 5,514 last year.

Not that all the New England clubs lost out, with the Springfield Falcons and the Portland Pirates posting modest gains.

"The Bruins not playing, hockey is not as top of mind as it would typically be," Andrews said. "The Bruins on television keeps hockey top of mind and generates interest on part of fans that might not go into Boston, but might go to our games."

From Boston Herald

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Scott    1

This article doesn't mention that the Boston area is a college hockey Mecca with excellent teams in BU, Harvard, BC, UML, Northeastern etc and alot of pro fans enjoy that more than the minors. Also pro hockey has been dying in Boston because the way the Bruins franchise has been run. For years fans have seen their favorite players walk away over money and enjoy success elsewhere. Too much emphasis on profit without wisely investing in talent.

btw- at $70 a ticket they can count me out.

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Cotuit    0

I've only ever been to one hockey game ever. It was last year, it was the P-Bruins, and I got the tickets for free. :)

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That's an excellent point Scott. College hockey costs less and is just as fun to watch as minor league.

I hope Manchester has better luck with the AHL all-star game than Portland did last year. (The sound and video systems didn't work for the first 2 periods) :blush: ALl the more reason for a new civic center!

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Scott    1

The Tsonges Arena in Lowell is not far from me and that is a great place to see a game. Portland could build something like that. People go early and eat in any one of the nice restaurants nearby. Lowell sounds a little scary to some people but its really safe and very interesting with all the old factories.

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I went to Lowell in 7th grade for a class field trip to "study" the industrial revolution. It was a really classy town from what I saw. We got to go inside all the mill museums and take a boat tour of the lock system. I recall the public high school being right next to the river and having some sort of a skybridge. Nice town indeed. I beleive the Lowell Spinners are in the same organization as the Sea Dogs. :)

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