I hope minor league hockey’s time has come (again) to Baltimore.
The Capitals and Predators visiting the Arena downtown tonight hopefully will pique the interest of someone out there looking to move or expand their hockey operations. I think any talk of the NHL or the NBA coming here is pretty much pie-in-the-sky. Even a minor league hockey team is a long shot as long as there is no new building to stage the events (I’ve always thought White Marsh made sense but no one has ever really asked my opinion).
But the AHL, as far as minor leagues go, has got to be one of the more successful models in American sports. The league now boasts 30 teams. They succeed in cities like Charlotte, Houston, Milwaukee and even in NHL cities like Chicago and Toronto. For years, the Phantoms co-existed with the Flyers in Philly until the old Spectrum was torn down. Smaller cities like Scranton, Syracuse and Oklahoma City sport franchises as well.
And maybe the premier franchise in the league sits only an hour north of here in Hershey. The Bears drew nearly 400,000 fans to the sparkling Giant Center last season. Everything the Bears have touched has turned to gold. They have aligned themselves with the Caps, they have been successful on-ice, and they have crafted a fan-friendly schedule of mostly weekend games and 5pm Sunday starts. You and the family can get in and out for $95 by taking advantage of the family four-pack (4 tickets, cokes, hot dogs and popcorn – oh and a program!). Contrast that with a single lower seat at the MCI Center going for that much. Which deal do you think Baltimore is ready for??
I see Harford County flocking to see the Ironbirds, a Single-A short season team in the New York-Penn League. 6,700 tickets sold for their 35 dates a season to see rosters with very few, if any, major league prospects. I see the rink off Route 7 in Abingdon full of stinky bags of hockey gear on a nightly basis. I’ll be there tonight playing myself.
I remember going to countless games in the late-70s and early 80s hanging on every shift. I have a hard time believing someone with the right connections, determination and financial wherewithal couldn’t build the folksy fraternity-like feel of Aberdeen or Hershey in a city like Baltimore. Now is anyone out there paying enough attention tonight to give Baltimore hockey fans a real reason to cheer?