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.
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).