The conjecture of the last week now behind us we'll talk some hockey - the on-ice stuff - this morning, at least to start.
In what seems to be the theme as the club winds down the regular season, the Kootenay Ice faced their biggest test of the season last night at WFP and passed with flying colours, beating the Calgary Hitmen 5-1 for the third win of the season against the team from Cowtown.
I didn't have a chance to be there as I took in a Bantam AAA game in Lethbridge while my wife and youngest son took in Eric Church at the Enmax centre last night, the site of where the Kootenay Ice face their next biggest test on the season tonight at 6PM, as always on the The Drive. So I caught most of the game via the broadcast.
FYI, three locals play on the Lethbridge squad who have got by first place Medicine Hat and now Airdrie with four straight wins and now get set to face the Calgary Northstar Sabres in the Alberta AAA Bantam League semi-finals. Jordan Roy from Cranbrook along with Ty Abbott and Daylan Marchi both from Sparwood who have relocated to the Windy City to play AAA Bantam hockey. The local AA squad - the Cranbrook Hornets - host Brooks today looking to clinch their first round best-of-three series today at the Memorial at 3PM after taking game one 10-2 Friday night in Brooks.
The Midget Ice dumped the Foothills squad 7-3 at home Friday night to take a 1-0 lead in that series while the Peewee Ice did the same to the Lethbridge Giants, 5-1 Friday to take a 1-0 in South Central Alberta Hockey League action. Game two of both series are in Fernie today and Lethbridge, respectively.
Alas, I digress....
Levi Cable opened the scoring for the Ice and added an assist and garnered first star honours last night in the 5-1 win. Brock Montgomery also notched a goal and an assist while Jakub Prochazka scored the eventual game-winner on the power play in the second. Sam Reinhart notched a couple of helpers that were added, probably after the highlites were looked at, which are up on the Ice website - right after the game!
The win was the club`s 12th straight at home, a new franchise record believe it or not. Something not even on the radar when this club was dead last in the WHL in December.
The win puts the Ice a game over the .500 mark for the first time this season in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, one point back of the Swift Current Broncos and three up on the Lethbridge Hurricanes. A win tonight would give the Ice a 4-5 point (depending on OT or not) lead and afford them to keep pace with the Broncos (who face-off at home against the Wheaties) and the Tigers, who play the Rebels, if those teams win.
The Ice will face the Hurricanes twice before the end of the season, including tonight and also two more games against the Tigers. Win those four and the chance of not only making the playoffs but hitting the 7th or even the 6th seed is a good possibility. The Hurricanes also have a tough schedule left as they have to travel through BC, or part of it, with games against Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna.
A solid crowd last night at WFP with 2744 at the game for a season average of 2363. It`s a big week as the next two games are on the road - tonight in Lethbridge and Wednesday in Medicine Hat before the Rebels return to WFP Friday. A crowd of 4000+ are expected for School Spirit night Saturday with the Tigers visiting for the final time, at least this regular season. There`s been a crowd as big as 4700 plus in that rink so there`s not worry of not getting a ticket if you like.
Wednesday`s game in the Hat is televised on Shaw. Gametime is 7PM.
Nothing elsewhere reported on True North Sports Entertainment`s quest for a WHL franchise other than Gregg Drinnan on his blog post for Saturday morning here. It`s interesting to note that when contacted by Drinnan about the speculation, Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth texted back ``No truth. We will 100% be in Cranbrook next season``. Drinnan also mentions Portland in the mix as owner Bill Gallacher has serious interests in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes and moving them to Stumptown. Then again, doesn`t everybody want the Coyotes and to move them to (Portland, Seattle, Quebec....).
At any rate, just some discussion on the discussion on my last post. I like the discussion, it`s a good thing. I still maintain that engaging the fans - whether they have good feedback, constructive or just bad feedback. It`s feedback, nonetheless. If you don`t get any of it then perhaps apathy could be the worst feedback of all.
But at the end of the day, we`re a small-town franchise in a big-town franchise world. The numbers don`t lie. Swift Current - with an average attendance this season of 2152 - manages to keep it`s head above water because their a community owned team and as such breaking even doesn`t hurt. Lethbridge is in the same boat but their average attendance is around the 3500 mark this season and that team should be able to make money at those numbers. However no playoff revenue is key for the last three years and they announced a 600,000 plus loss last year. PG, the only real comparison in this argument because they, like the Ice, are privately owned, draw only an average of 1862 this season. That`s tough with their expenses and their geography. Playoffs home dates are key, which we`ve had a lot of over the years and this year, hopefully should have again.
A friend commented to me that it would be better to tank and get a shot at a top pick in the Bantam Draft like Tyler Benson or Kyle Clague. That doesn`t work on two fronts; one, you never know if those top picks are going to pan out. There`s no such thing as a sure thing and he`s two-three years away from making an impact. Two, and more importantly, making the playoffs - given an average ticket price of $20 and say an average crowd of 2500. That`s a $100,000 before expenses for two home dates. That`s a lot to the bottom line of any team never mind a small-market one. And it`s gravy. Every team budget is based on the regular season.
Also, the fact you might hate the GM or ownership should never factor into a decision whether or not you attend a game. Quite frankly, either should the atmosphere either but I do realize that it`s important to fans not as fanatical as I. The sizzle is important but again, the product or the steak should be the thing you want to see at the end of the day. I would love a jumbotron because I come from a generation that is sooo used to replays but it doesn`t affect my decision to buy a ticket. But at the end of the day, the finished product on the ice - overall - is almost beyond reproach, given the teams record here. The GM puts that product on the ice. Whether you like him or not is irrelevant, if you support the aforementioned argument.
If you don`t support that argument, therein might lie the problem. That and there`s only 30,000 or so of us to actually go to games.
Marketing, from a team standpoint, has to better. If you`re base to draw from is small to begin with there should be no stone un-turned to get that possible fan in the door. It does take money to market, for the most part and with a razor-thin budget, it`s tough to find the money to market. Kind of a chicken and egg argument.
At any rate, I wonder if a different ownership group would be able to change anything, anyway. I do know it worked in Tri-Cities but again, look at the product on the ice compared to what it was before the new ownership group took over seven years ago. That`s what has changed there. Though there`s still no championship banners there. Here there`s three.
The coming months or year could be one of consternation for hockey in this town if things don`t improve at the turnstiles. Whether the owner `likes`it here is irrelevant. It`s all about dollars and cents at the end of the day.
Everything`s for sale, at the right price.
Right now, that price might be extremely high, both for the team and the city, if it`s sold.