Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

02/10/2010

Potentially HUUUUGE Move For Albany AHL Hopes

A funny thing happened while reading the generally useless Troy Record, I found a nugget of information that’s truly fascinating.  The Troy Record generally covers only the high school beat and RPI hockey, but they posted a story on the sale and move of the Albany River Rats and had something far more interesting contained within.

The emergence of another AHL team calling Albany home, possibly owned by automobile mogul Billy Fuccillo, is merely speculation at this point. Sources said Fuccillo had high interest in own a team, but has since cooled if he doesn’t have full control of the franchise.

For those of you not familiar with Billy Fuccillo, some might say you can be considered fortunate as his television ads for his numerous car dealerships across upstate New York are plentiful and catch-phrase-tastic.  A lot of folks find him to be terribly annoying, but after seeing his ads follow me back home from my college days in Oswego, NY he’s grown on me for how classically old school he is as a car dealer/TV pitchman.

Since the Record says that any and all talk of Fuccillo’s wants for a team are speculative, I did a bit more research and found this item on Albany TV station WTEN’s site.

Furthermore, local car dealer Billy Fuccillo’s Chief Financial Officer reports he is in initial discussions with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a Connecticut AHL team affiliated with the New York Islanders.

Well that amps up things quite a bit.  The site also adds this heartwarming note:

Fuccillo’s CFO says he wants the people of Albany to have a hockey team.

Well isn’t that nice. I’m sure those of you not in Upstate New York are wondering who the heck he is.  Well, he’s huge up here. Literally.

After all, a guy that does commercials like this has to have an idea on how to market and sell a team, not to mention a seemingly endless flow of cash to advertise the hell out of the team.  If there’s anything any Albany-area professional sports team fails at miserably it’s keeping a high profile in the media and selling the hell out of it to make people want to go.

Of course, if Fuccillo does go through with it and gets the Sound Tigers, that would make the Islanders organization two for two with wacky owners.  In case you’ve forgotten, Charles Wang is the owner of the New York Islanders and some of his decisions are already part of mocking folk lore in the NHL.  More importantly for the city of Albany, it would provide them a team that is actually affiliated with a pro team that’s based in New York State. It would be fitting that the state capital be associated with a team from its own state, right?  Before anyone asks, yes there are Islanders fans here upstate, although not as many as say Rangers fans.

If you’re curious, as the Record story stated, there is a bit of a history in the area with the Islanders as the Capital District Islanders once called Troy home and played home games at the Houston Field House on the RPI campus.  That team then became the Albany River Rats.  The minor league circle of life continues on.

If Fuccillo’s interest is true and he does want to buy the Sound Tigers and bring them to Albany, then this is a huge coup for the AHL. They’d be keeping a team in Albany and adding an owner who, while seemingly wacky and insane, is a dogged and tenacious businessman and a guy that hates to lose a buck as much as anyone and demands optimum performance from everyone in his organization.  He’s shrewd, he’s smart, he’s tough as hell and he knows what it takes to succeed.

In short, in a league that needs to have committed ownership and as many guys with deep pockets and an ability to market the hell out of their teams, Fuccillo could be the exact right kind of guy the AHL needs to help build up attendance in a city that has severely lagged behind.

02/08/2010

Report: River Rats Sold – Next Stop: Charlotte

According to WSOC sports anchor Bill Voth, via Twitter, the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL have called a 2:00 p.m. Wednesday press conference to announce that Checkers owner Michael Kahn is purchasing the Albany River Rats.  The plan for Kahn is to relocate the franchise to Charlotte where they will continue to be the farm team for the Carolina Hurricanes.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago when this story broke, the River Rats got very hush-hush about things and made the standard company stand-by comment of, “Nothing to see here… Yet.”  While there’s no comment from the folks in Albany as of now (give it time), this ends the current tenure of the River Rats in Albany.  While there will be other teams looking to relocate or add affiliations, if one is going to move to Albany, it’ll have to be through new ownership.

What should prove interesting in this scenario is what will happen with the Adirondack Phantoms, who will be in Glens Falls again next year, should there not be a local rival to split a massive number of games against each other next season.  The Phantoms have outdrawn the River Rats so far this season even though the Glens Falls Civic Center is a much smaller venue than that of the Times Union Center in Albany.

The fun, Albany point of view on this now is what is the hockey world’s opinion of Albany now? The city has failed with the River Rats both under the “guidance” of the Devils and now with the Hurricanes and the city failed to retain the ECAC Tournament semifinals and finals getting beaten out by the hockey hotbed of Atlantic City, New Jersey in a deal that just managed to keep SMG’s pockets happy.

This year, the NCAA Hockey East Regionals again return to Albany and unless there’s some major local influence or a massive regional fanbase to help draw crowds, attendance is expected to be mediocre at the cavernous facility yet again.  While the folks running Times Union Center has its fingers crossed twice over hoping Cornell, Union and RPI can all make the ECAC final four, it’s likely, although not guaranteed, that only one of those schools could end up in Albany for the NCAAs.  Whether you want to point the finger at apathetic local interest or at terrible marketing on behalf of the ECAC and NCAA, you could win an argument in any way you wanted to as all of it has been piss-poor.

That’s not to say that sports fans in Albany are that fickle, it’s just we’ve all been down that road before and been jerked around for it in Albany and the Rats failure is yet another example of that.  Albany fans have often been blessed with great teams to root for at a low professional or minor league level only to find screwball owners get a little too excited over a good thing.  Take a look at this awful sports history off the top of my head:

It happened in minor league baseball with the Albany-Colonie Yankees who bolted the decrepit Heritage Park for the new confines in Norwich, Connecticut.

It happened in the CBA with the Albany Patroons who thought that moving over to the Knickerbocker Arena out of the Washington Avenue Armory would bring bigger crowds and then overshot their estimates and then caved into local money naming the team after local car dealerships. Yes, the Capital Region Pontiacs are a name that should long live in infamy for how not to win fans over or influence anyone.

It happened in Arena Football as owners Glen Mazula and Joe O’Hara couldn’t find a way to make a championship winning team into a profitable item in spite of drawing great crowds and then giving into the AFL’s demands to fill out NFL markets with AFL teams and settling for an af2 booby prize that failed miserably because fans knew they were getting an inferior product to an already inferior product.

And you can believe it that professional hockey has been down this road already many times before.  Look back at the illustrious history of the Adirondack Red Wings who were chased out of business by the River Rats in the 90s as well as the short-lived tenures Capital District Islanders and Albany Choppers.

These are all teams that have been around in just the past 25 years in Albany, and people wonder why fans of the Capital District are just burnt out and sick of getting jerked around.  What’s even more amazing through all this is that the last man standing is the single-A Tri-City ValleyCats and they play in a stadium named after a convicted local political felon.  Un-friggin-real.

Would I like to see a better run AHL team in Albany?  Sure, but buyer better beware because the fans of this area are wise to all the tricks and gimmicks meant to sell people on anything.  Folks are burned out and fed up of being treated like a marketing class pet project.  Besides, what the college teams at RPI and Union are doing this year in hockey (and Siena in basketball) is proving that long-standing local ties and a damn good product can pay off and be exciting – just don’t shoot for the moon to make a few more bucks or treat the fans like suckers.

01/21/2010

Minor League Hockey: Circle Of Life (Update)

Filed under: AHL,Albany River Rats,Anaheim Ducks,Carolina Hurricanes — Joe Yerdon @ 7:56 PM

Well here’s a bit of news courtesy of Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer via Twitter.

Canes will have AHL team in Charlotte next year. No official confirmation yet but it’s a go.

I wonder if anyone at the Times Union Center in Albany was made aware of this because right now the Albany River Rats are the minor league home of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s funny how the minor league hockey cycle works though.  Last year I wrote about how the then Philadelphia Phantoms were moving back to the Capital District area of New York and discussed how the Adirondack Red Wings were essentially run out of town by the Albany River Rats.  Fast forward to now and the River Rats agreement with the Hurricanes was coming to an end and now it appears that the River Rats for the mean time will be unaffiliated and are now in danger of existing past this season.

This isn’t meant to say the River Rats are a tremendous success in Albany. They aren’t.  The River Rats have consistently been one of the poorest draws in the AHL and are right there again this year averaging less than 3,500 fans per game in an arena that, for minor league hockey purposes, holds about 9,000.  That attendance number is what you can expect to see at a 3/4 filled RPI hockey game or a Fire Marshall breaking things up and evacuating the building situation at Messa Rink for a Union game.

Obviously this move for the Hurricanes makes sense because it brings their minor league operations near by and paying to fly guys all over the place out of Albany is pretty expensive, despite the fact that Albany’s airport is “international.”

So what do the River Rats do now?  The first thing  to do would be to call the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks lost their affiliate after last season, the infamous Iowa Chops, after the owners in Iowa fell out of favor with the Ducks over money squabbles.  Go figure.  This year, Ducks prospects have been shared all over the AHL in an effort to keep their players playing and in shape.  Obviously the major issue here for the Ducks (and for Albany) is the geography.  Anaheim and Albany are quite a distance from each other although Albany is closer to Anaheim than Portland, Maine – a former home for the Ducks.

The upside for the Ducks is that, like the Chops, the River Rats is an extremely unique moniker with oodles of marketing capability, none of which any of the brain trust in Albany has ever been effectively been able to use.  Perhaps with a little help and swagger from folks in southern California, the ad wizards in Albany can figure out what the hell to do with hockey.  It’s either that or give up the market completely to the Adirondack Phantoms who actually seem to care about hockey.  The Phantoms averaging 4,303 per game in the tightly packed Glens Falls Civic Center (capacity: 4,800).

Whatever the solution is for the River Rats, the time to act is now.  It’s unknown as yet what the Ducks’ plans are for an AHL team next year and Albany would offer them a ready-made situation to make things work.  That is, unless, the folks in Albany are just willing to let hockey walk away just like they did with the ECAC Tournament.  There’s surely going to be plenty of other turnover in the AHL during the off-season, but this situation with the River Rats and the city of Charlotte is one that’s come out of nowhere.

UPDATE (1/22/10):

The Times Union’s Pete Dougherty has gotten on the case and done some sniffing around to find out what’s up with the River Rats and he may have gotten down to it, and the news isn’t good for Albany minor league hockey fans.  According to a report he’s found (the same “report” I found mind you), the River Rats are going to be sold.

Garen Szablewski, president and CEO of the River Rats, said that owner Walter Robb is “looking at number of different options in terms of affiliations and future of the franchise,” but he is unaware that any deal has been struck.

It reads like Pete Dougherty is taking as many leaps of faith as the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander is taking in guessing what the next move will be in saying that Rats owner Walter Robb will sell off to someone that will move the team out of town, but it’s not like that hasn’t happened to Albany once before (hello Albany Firebirds).

04/28/2009

Adirondack Phantoms: It’s Official

Filed under: AHL,Glens Falls,Philadelphia Phantoms — Joe Yerdon @ 4:40 PM

It’s official – per the AHL website:

“On behalf of our Board, it’s my privilege to welcome these three cities to the AHL family,” said Andrews. “We are looking forward to these new opportunities in Austin and Abbotsford, and we’re excited to be returning to the rich AHL tradition and history in Glens Falls.”

You hear that Gary? Tradition and history, two things you wouldn’t know about if they sat on your face. It’s also a couple of things that Austin, Texas and Abbotsford, British Columbia, don’t have a lot of.

That’s beside the point though.

I told you to get used to calling them the Adirondack Phantoms.

As I expected, this move was being made whether Glens Falls hit the 2,500 season ticket goal or not and as of the last update at the Post Star website on Monday, the total was a bit over 1,600. If they don’t hit the 2,500 mark now after the confirmation of the team moving, I’d really worry if I were part of the Brooks Group, owners of the Phantoms. After all, if you can’t get folks to pony up when it is a sure thing… I don’t know what to tell you.

At the least, we now understand why the target date was moved up to today, the 28th. The AHL was ready to make the announcement regardless.

What remains to be seen is how long this remains the home of the Phantoms or if this is just Glens Falls’ way of auditioning for another full-time gig when/if the Phantoms get their own place in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

04/22/2009

Moving On Up To The Northside

Folks may not be too up on this unless you’re a big fan of the AHL, but the Philadelphia Phantoms are about to become a homeless hockey team.

Their home in Philadelphia has been the famous Philly Spectrum which will be demolished once the Phantoms season comes to an end and with that comes a search for where the Phantoms will play in the meantime.


Adirondack Phantoms – Get Used To It

A couple of areas have jumped to the forefront of the debate to pull in the Phantoms, one close by to their current location in Pennsylvania and the other… Well, the other is a throwback to a bygone era of the American Hockey League.

First up is a location in the Lehigh Valley, namely Allentown, PA. There’s some buzz about going here, but it appears there’s not much in the way of current infrastructure (read: An arena to play in!) to make it happen right away.

The debate going on in Allentown taps into something more of a microcosm of what happens in the major metroplexes when it comes to building such places: Why spend public money for sports luxuries?

An interesting note made in that opinion piece that helps justify the cause for building a new arena is something that everyone can understand:


That said, if a local government is bent on building a new arena or stadium, now may be the time to do it, because costs are lower and the new construction can create jobs and a short term economic stimulus.

Well, duh.

All that aside, Allentown is at a huge disadvantage compared to their apparent competition for the affections of Phantoms management. After all, Allentown can’t make the claim that they’ve once been home to a Calder Cup championship team or two the way Glens Falls, New York can.


OK now picture this with a hockey rink and fans decked out in purple and orange.

That’s right, Glens Falls the former home of the Adirondack Red Wings, wants the Phantoms to come north in the worst way.

I could pick and snipe from a few articles from the local newspaper (hey, remember those?) The Post Star, but they’ve gone hog wild covering the Phantoms situation as well as the local efforts to lure them in by dedicating a full page of links and articles on their website.

Honestly, the media focus on its own is pretty impressive considering that Glens Falls is a city that is actually starved to get professional hockey back there. You know, honest to goodness professional hockey, not something that is fighting on ice skates like they had with former Civic Center residents the Adirondack Frostbite (out of the UHL) also known as the Adirondack IceHawks.

The last two seasons, Glens Falls made time and room for the former Adirondack Red Wings blood rivals, the Albany River Rats by having some regular season home River Rats games played at the Civic Center – a shrewd move by the city to show that they can still bring folks into the arena and support a local team – even if it’s one that they may still hate for eventually chasing away the much beloved Red Wings.

The folks with the Phantoms have been smart about this though. The Brooks Group, the Phantoms ownership, have pledged to folks in Glens Falls that if they get 2,500 folks to commit to season ticket packages they will move the team to the city and rock their faces off with real, actual professional hockey once again.

According to the story, all it takes for folks to help bring a team back to Glens Falls is a $25 deposit and the good faith to drop between $320 and $760 for a 40-game season ticket package, prices that really aren’t unreasonable at all.

Think about that, $8 a game to watch professional hockey? That sounds pretty awesome, especially since Glens Falls Civic Center doesn’t have a bad seat in the building, you just have to make do without the super modern amenities available in many other arenas.

As always, there’s a catch involved.

The goal of 2,500 season ticket pledges has a new target date of April 28 (it was April 30), less than a week from today, and currently sales are just over 1,000. The Brooks Group has made it known that the language in the lease agreement says that the date can be made negligible if they decide to go ahead with the city anyways.

I’m sure the Brooks Group would feel a lot better about things if they had 2,500 to go with right off the bat, but this is where reality sets in pretty hard. Glens Falls is a poorer city than Albany, and Albany has certainly shown they struggle bringing folks to the Times Union Center averaging just over 3,500 fans a game, third worst in the AHL.

While Glens Falls is a more hockey-centric and hockey crazy place than Albany, the residents there also come from a more blue-collar background and may not have the disposable income needed to plunk down the kind of money needed to keep the owners happy.

That said, Glens Falls hasn’t had actual good hockey in the city in a long time (10 years gone now) and the Philadelphia Phantoms have been successful recently, including playoff runs the last two seasons.

The fans in Glens Falls are savvy and a good team will bring fans out in droves, at least enough to make the near 5,000 seat arena fill up and provide the home ice advantage teams in the AHL yearn for.

The Brooks Group is being quite wise and political about the process, however, and they don’t want to burn a bridge in Pennsylvania, especially since the lease agreement with Glens Falls is so beneficial to them and allows them to use Glens Falls a temporary place to stay should they want to head back to the Lehigh Valley if/when Allentown, PA bends over backwards to get the Phantoms to come back home.

Brooks said Wednesday that the Lehigh Valley remains their first choice as a permanent location for the team.

“We’re working with Allentown and Bethlehem. We’re working on the financing of it,” he said. “It’s a market that we’ve been working on for several years.”

I don’t know about you, but reading words like that don’t really do a whole lot to inspire any feelings of potential loyalty I would have towards a team that might come to my home town.

I know it makes sense to keep a Flyers farm team near Philadelphia for logistical and hometown fan-cultivating needs, and I know it seems silly to have a farm team of a not-really local team in an area not known for having many Flyers fans in the first place. Hell, Glens Falls is still a Red Wings town to this day.

The city and the mayor want professional hockey back there in the worst way and everyone loves a winner and Glens Falls certainly loved the Red Wings. Should this pan out and the city gets its chance to be “big time” once again with the Phantoms, I’ll be more curious to see if folks warm up to them right away – especially with both the “out clause” and potential short-term status Sword of Damocles hanging over them.

If there’s something fans in this part of upstate New York don’t like it’s being jerked around by professional sports (see: Albany Patroons, Albany-Colonie Yankees, Albany Firebirds, Albany River Rats, Capital District Islanders, Albany Choppers), and investing time and money into a team that might bolt town in three to five years sets up potential disaster towards the end of that run.

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