Earlier this year, I was at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia for the first time, checking out the arena and attending a Flyers game. Their remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, got me thinking back: how many teams have I seen during their championship season on a new visit to their stadium? The answer is six, which isn’t too bad, especially considering that I have seen a decent amount of college teams and it’s very difficult for them to win a championship with the number of competing teams between 120 to 360. Below are the six teams:
Erie Otters: 2001-02 Champions of the OHL. This one gets me all nostalgic because it was the very beginning of my travels (#8 on my list) and I was absolutely blown away by the atmosphere in Tullio Arena. It was my first minor league arena visit and though this is the only OHL building I’ve been to so far, it still holds as one of my favorites for atmospheres. The expert on OHL Arenas has it all over his review of what an intimidating place this is. The game I saw here was Game 5 of the First Round and Erie outclassed Sarnia 7-4 and they won the series. It was an impressive team as they were only pushed to Game 6 once in their four round journey to the championship.
Trenton Titans: 2004-05 Champions of the ECHL. Trenton was very good during the regular season and in the game we went to. They jumped all over Toledo and won 7-2 in a December game we attended at Sovereign Bank Arena. The Titans didn’t have any big name future NHLers, but this was the season of the lockout and there were some current pros in the league during this season.
Hershey Bears: 2005-06 Champions of the AHL. Sticking with hockey, this was the beginning of the Bears dynasty as they have now won three of the last five Calder Cups. The beautiful Giant Center was rocking for our playoff game as they took on rivals Wilkes-Barre in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The game was a blowout and they swept the series in the next game.
Trenton Thunder: 2007 Champions of the Eastern League. The city of Trenton must love me. Two teams and two titles in my first appearance at their buildings. Just like their arena, I loved Mercer County Waterfront Park and they had a quality team in the April game we saw. It was a 7-4 victory over the B-Mets. The team capped off an 83-59 season with a championship and another great year at the gate, ranking #3 in attendance.
Rochester Raiders: 2007 Champions of the CIFL. The Raiders won an indoor football championship as they were playing this season in the Main Street Armory. This was their only appearance in the converted arena as they moved around from the small ESL Center to the large Blue Cross Arena and now are settled at the Dome Arena, a small fairgrounds facility. The one interesting thing about this game (a 77-49 win) was I saw my old high school classmate play at quarterback (Mike Mikolaichek) for Rochester.
Lakewood BlueClaws: 2009 Champions of the South Atlantic League. FirstEnergy Park was the site of my visit and the BlueClaws crushed Lexington…a sign of things to come as they won both the first half and second half divisions, then went 5 for 6 during the playoffs to win their championship.
All of these championship teams won going away in the games I attended…a perfect 6-0. We’ll see what other future teams win some titles.