Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On the Topic of Losing a Team

While there has been much talk about relocation in the NHL lexicon in the next few years, you have to definitely feel for the fans of the teams being talked about who actually show up for the game. It's definitely a kick of sand to their faces when it comes to having a team taken away from them.

This sort of thing happens more often than not when it comes to the minor league ranks, as the ownership is sometimes a carousel of people going in and coming out. Also, you have the city stay the same, but affiliation and leagues change year-in and year-out. It makes it tough to get some kind of loyalty going and the connection when it comes to fan and team.

However, it's definitely hard on the players and staff, as well. Some players build up a great report with the area and some fans and hate to be taken away from the atmosphere. The staff is often guys who are from the area who work or have worked with a team before and relocated to the destination to settle into before the team even move into the area, then got hired on because of location.

Personally, I went through this ordeal when I worked as a stick boy for the Chesapeake Icebreakers during the 1998-99 season at the ripe old age of 15. Now, the Icebreakers weren't the biggest draw.....and to be honest, they were lucky to have 200 or 300 people in the Show Place Arena-- which holds 4,000 for hockey. It was quite the sad sight to see when out there. While out on the bench for warm-ups, the players would often talk about the "raucous" crowd that was waiting for some exciting action. And it wasn't bad hockey for the most part and has players like former NHLers David Aebischer, Gaston Gingras, head coach Chris Nilan, and current National Lacrosse League player Kaleb Toth.

By about mid-season, the Icebreakers had a knowledge that this was going to be their last season in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and just wondered what would happened next. They did what they could to garner attention, including a near sell-out for a game against heated rival Roanoke Express, for which there were plenty of fights and bad blood between all involved. This would also be the team that eliminated them in the Conference Semi-Finals, sealing the fate of the team when all was said and done.

The mood surrounding the team after that last game was somber at best. The room was quiet and just everyone didn't know what to do. The staff just sat around and wonder what was going to be the next step. Even the mascot didn't know what the hell to he sat there with the polar bear head off and sitting on the crappy couch in the mascot room. It was.....odd to say the least.

The next day was the move-out day for players and staff, as the team was transferring to Jackson, Mississippi. Yet, the feel was a little more upbeat. The players did their year-end physical and packed their gear while shooting the breeze with teammates and staff; even goofing off in the dressing room, which would be converted into.....well, no one is quite sure. In fact, one of the players actually got me to help haul the inflatable polar bear head (which the players skated through during introductions) half-way up the ramp when one of the other guys stopped us and reminded how much it probably cost and how it could be billed for such a thing. Then we dragged it back to its original spot.

Only one of the training staff went with the team, as the equipment manager stayed in Maryland and most of the other staff did the same. While it may not seem like much, it was still something to me, who was looking for a hockey career in some facet off the ice. Look where it's gotten me now....

In any case, the point is that it really effects more than the fans-- but I assume that's a given. It's not good to lose a team, especially when you actually have a tight connection to some of the players who are there. Plus, when they leave-- most of the staff is left with nothing and have to get a real job or jobs. In fact, the equipment manager went on to work part-time at the pro-shop at one of the local rinks. Quite odd running into him a few years down the road. While the players get to move on, some do not.

I don't know why I wrote this piece-- maybe to give another perspective on the whole thing or maybe because people have beaten the waffle train to death. Plus, while it sucks to lose a team, sometimes it's a necessary evil. It's not just the team or players you're supporting; it's the people behind the scenes, as well. Support your local hockey team, kids-- or don't bitch about losing them if/when you do.

No comments: