Wawaweewa, where do we begin? Lots to discuss, but we’ll start at the top where the only NHL change is with the New York Islanders. They sadly leave the raucous Coliseum for the non-hockey fitting Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I’ve written about this before and have nothing more to add. OK, now on to the real craziness. The AHL has resorted to extreme measures to appease their big affiliate brothers by creating a West Coast Division this season. The geographical anomaly means that the California teams only play 68 games, while the rest of the league plays 76. Out of those 68, almost all of them are within the division (Bakersfield for example has just four games against teams not based in California, Texas or Manitoba). There’s a couple reasons I hate this and it starts with the continued push in the stressing of “Development”. Unfortunately the days of putting the minor-league city, sweater and fans first are becoming a distant memory. That small-time charm and passion is getting further buried. Secondly (remember I am all about the smaller cities/arenas), there is a disturbing trend of NHL teams putting their farm team in their own building. This is going to happen in both San Jose and Winnipeg this year. Ugh. I’m sure playing in front of hundreds in an empty pro arena will do wonders come playoff time to gain atmosphere experience.
Here are the changes (not necessarily the direct relations)…Adirondack, Manchester and Norfolk all drop to the ECHL while Stockton, Ontario and San Diego come up to the AHL. The Oklahoma City franchise folds, while Bakersfield gets promoted up to the American League. OKC’s arena, the Cox Convention Center, remains on The List as it is home for the Blue of the NBDL. As mentioned earlier, San Jose takes their affiliate team in house, while Worcester is left with nothing and there will be no hockey this winter at the DCU Center. The Manitoba Moose are back in the league, while longtime mainstay, Hamilton, oddly drops down to the OHL. The only good piece of arena news this year in the AHL is the return of the Charlotte Checkers to Bojangles’ Coliseum. The team leaves the city’s new pro arena for a return to this 1956 arena that is finishing a big renovation. Yea for that. In the ECHL, Gwinnett changed their name to Atlanta as I guess the branding bigwigs think that is better. Their arena in Duluth has also been renamed “Infinite Energy Center”. With all the big changes at AAA and AA, the A-level SPHL only sees one change and it is the addition of the Macon Mayhem. The city’s Coliseum has been off again/on again for minor-league teams and it will be back on again this winter. Finally, in the very low-level Federal League…Berkshire and Watertown are out, while Berlin, Brewster and Port Huron are in. Both Berlin and Brewster will be playing at community rec-style rinks, while McMorran Place, site of plenty former Port Huron teams, returns.
In the OHL, I mentioned Hamilton joining the league and they replace Belleville. This is a sad move as we lose an old-school OHL town/rink, while gaining a franchise that is much more suited for high-level professional hockey with their games being played in 17,500-seat FirstOntario Centre. The other change is somewhat odd as the Plymouth franchise moves only an hour North up to Flint. Low attendance led to the selling of the franchise, who oh by the way was done by Peter Karmanos, the old jerkoff who moved Hartford to Carolina. Anyway, the move was at least justified here by low attendance, but the weird thing is that the new owners are taking up residence in a city with profound struggles and in an arena that is older. Though Flint’s renamed facility is completing some upgrades to the guts of the building, it’s still questionable to see how successful the move is. By the name, the new arena name is Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center. As for the arena in Plymouth, it was sold to US Hockey, who actually will be placing their U-18 team in USHL there.
Out in the Q, we have Quebec City’s Videotron Centre opening to much fanfare and interest. While the Remparts welcomed a sellout for their home opener, this is the building that Les Quebecois are hoping brings the NHL back to the city. Populous built this arena for a cool $370 million and it is designed with very steeply for better sightlines. The design philosophy calls for minimal distractions and complete focus on the game, which I’m liking the concept. The new arena does mean we say goodbye to the Pepsi Coliseum, the old home for the Nordiques and Remparts that was built in 1949. It will lie dormant and the future is bleak for this terrific old place. Another new arena just opened in the WHL as well as Medicine Hat said goodbye to their plain 1970 arena and hello to the Canalta Centre, a building 10 years in the making. The capacity for Tigers’ games is 6,016 and it is a surprisingly large place for a small town that only has a population of 60,000.
Lastly, let’s talk College Hockey. If you were to take a guess as to which Division I program would add hockey to their sports profile, I’m thinking that Arizona State would not be one of your first 50 (or 100) that you guess. As crazy as it sounds, the Sun Devils will be an independent this year. While their club team has been very successful and the sport is growing at all levels in Arizona, there certainly are skeptics on the rapid move from rumor to reality. ASU will play home games in the 750-seat Oceanside Ice Arena while waiting for plans to play in a better facility. They will also have some games at Gila River Arena in Glendale. The final new arena this season comes from Omaha, where UNO completes the snazzy Baxter Arena. The facility will not only be home to hockey, but it will also host Maverick Basketball and Volleyball as the school quickly climbs the ladder into Division I for all sports.