Monday, November 26, 2012

Hammering Out a Deal with the OHL?

The rumours of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters moving to Hamilton resurfaced last Friday. Earlier in 2012, the story was the Otters would kick the Junior-A Hamilton Red Wings out of Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena - a place that holds roughly 2,500 people. The Hamilton Spectator said it would've been the smallest rink in the OHL behind the Niagara IceDogs.

Now, it looks like the home for the Otters would be Copps Coliseum. The seating capacity for hockey is just under 18,000 and would be the biggest in the league, unless you count when the 67s play in ScotiaBank Place.

But will the city respond to this team better than the current tenants of Copps - the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs? The Bulldogs' agreement with the rink ends following this season. So far, the team is packing over 7,000 fans a game into the aging building - the third highest mark in the league. How much of that is due to the lockout? Well, the team hasn't averaged over 5,000 fans in the regular season since its Calder Cup campaign in 2006-07. During the last NHL lockout, the team averaged just under 5,800.

What may help the possible transition is Connor McDavid (pictured above), a 15-year-old currently playing in the OHL after being granted exceptional status, or the "John Tavares Rule". While he'd be with the team for a couple of years, what would the team do next? Erie currently has a record of 7-15-1-3, the second worst in the league. Last year, the Otters had just 10 wins on the season. I've seen Copps when the Bulldogs aren't winning. It's like a ghost town. Even when the team was winning, it's a tough draw.

As a Hamiltonian, I'm very sceptical about how this will play out. When I went to Bulldogs games, the top bowl is rarely opened. There were a couple of games when I could count the number of fans in a section on one hand. In a triple-OT Game 7 in the 2011 Calder Cup playoffs, there was an announced attendance of 2,553 people. Being at that game, I doubt there was that many.

Would I buy tickets to see the next great players play? In a heartbeat. I'd rather see them play than the players in "the A". Does that mean other Hamiltonians would? I'm not sold on that idea yet. It seems to be the NHL or bust.

Oh well, at least we have the Ti-Cats. Wait, what? They'll be in Guelph for a year? Hamiltonians could be in for a long winter next year.

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