Minor League Hockey: Circle Of Life (Update)

Well here’s a bit of news courtesy of Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer via Twitter.

Canes will have AHL team in Charlotte next year. No official confirmation yet but it’s a go.

I wonder if anyone at the Times Union Center in Albany was made aware of this because right now the Albany River Rats are the minor league home of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s funny how the minor league hockey cycle works though.  Last year I wrote about how the then Philadelphia Phantoms were moving back to the Capital District area of New York and discussed how the Adirondack Red Wings were essentially run out of town by the Albany River Rats.  Fast forward to now and the River Rats agreement with the Hurricanes was coming to an end and now it appears that the River Rats for the mean time will be unaffiliated and are now in danger of existing past this season.

This isn’t meant to say the River Rats are a tremendous success in Albany. They aren’t.  The River Rats have consistently been one of the poorest draws in the AHL and are right there again this year averaging less than 3,500 fans per game in an arena that, for minor league hockey purposes, holds about 9,000.  That attendance number is what you can expect to see at a 3/4 filled RPI hockey game or a Fire Marshall breaking things up and evacuating the building situation at Messa Rink for a Union game.

Obviously this move for the Hurricanes makes sense because it brings their minor league operations near by and paying to fly guys all over the place out of Albany is pretty expensive, despite the fact that Albany’s airport is “international.”

So what do the River Rats do now?  The first thing  to do would be to call the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks lost their affiliate after last season, the infamous Iowa Chops, after the owners in Iowa fell out of favor with the Ducks over money squabbles.  Go figure.  This year, Ducks prospects have been shared all over the AHL in an effort to keep their players playing and in shape.  Obviously the major issue here for the Ducks (and for Albany) is the geography.  Anaheim and Albany are quite a distance from each other although Albany is closer to Anaheim than Portland, Maine – a former home for the Ducks.

The upside for the Ducks is that, like the Chops, the River Rats is an extremely unique moniker with oodles of marketing capability, none of which any of the brain trust in Albany has ever been effectively been able to use.  Perhaps with a little help and swagger from folks in southern California, the ad wizards in Albany can figure out what the hell to do with hockey.  It’s either that or give up the market completely to the Adirondack Phantoms who actually seem to care about hockey.  The Phantoms averaging 4,303 per game in the tightly packed Glens Falls Civic Center (capacity: 4,800).

Whatever the solution is for the River Rats, the time to act is now.  It’s unknown as yet what the Ducks’ plans are for an AHL team next year and Albany would offer them a ready-made situation to make things work.  That is, unless, the folks in Albany are just willing to let hockey walk away just like they did with the ECAC Tournament.  There’s surely going to be plenty of other turnover in the AHL during the off-season, but this situation with the River Rats and the city of Charlotte is one that’s come out of nowhere.

UPDATE (1/22/10):

The Times Union’s Pete Dougherty has gotten on the case and done some sniffing around to find out what’s up with the River Rats and he may have gotten down to it, and the news isn’t good for Albany minor league hockey fans.  According to a report he’s found (the same “report” I found mind you), the River Rats are going to be sold.

Garen Szablewski, president and CEO of the River Rats, said that owner Walter Robb is “looking at number of different options in terms of affiliations and future of the franchise,” but he is unaware that any deal has been struck.

It reads like Pete Dougherty is taking as many leaps of faith as the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander is taking in guessing what the next move will be in saying that Rats owner Walter Robb will sell off to someone that will move the team out of town, but it’s not like that hasn’t happened to Albany once before (hello Albany Firebirds).

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  1. On January 22, 2010 Tapeleg says:

    Twitter is nice and all, but there has to be a lot more going on here. For instance, what happens to the Charlotte Checkers? Do they take the franchise elsewhere? Do they just fold up their ECHL business and convert to the AHL?

  2. On January 22, 2010 chief says:

    I haven’t been to a Phantoms game yet, but I’ve been to two River Rats games this season. I believe both the games were on Friday nights. The place was disturbingly empty. I know it’s a big venue, and it’s hard to make it look “full,” but I think this is really foreshadowing what’s to come for AHL Hockey in Albany.

    I also had an interesting thing happen to me about 2-3 months ago. I work in Saratoga, which is about 1/2 way between Albany and Glens Falls (where the Phantoms play) and a bunch of co-workers noticed these two girls wearing cheese-hats walking around our office. They came in and informed us about a special that the River Rats were having. The girl was actually really nice, and honestly it was a pretty good deal (I forget what it was, but it was like 4 tickets to a game plus food for under $40). I was somewhat impressed that they were making a push like this to sell tickets. It’s not like they’re not trying. Unfortunately though I think AHL hockey is dead in Albany. As you said there are two great division 1 NCAA hockey teams close by, plus hockey season overlaps with basketball – and lately Siena and UAlbany have had pretty good teams.

    Another part of the equation as you’ve pointed out is geography. I remember going to games when The River Rats represented the New Jersey Devils, and it seemed to draw a lot better – lots of Diablos jerseys etc. Personally, I’d probably find myself attending a lot more games if it was an NHL team that I at least loosely followed, but I can’t get myself to want to watch the Hurricanes (especially this season).

    I don’t know exactly why Albany can’t draw for hockey, but I really doubt that the River Rats will exist at this time next year. Hopefully this will be the kick-in-the-ass I need to get myself over to Messa Rink or the RPI Fieldhouse to see some quality NCAA hockey!

  3. On January 22, 2010 Hockey Joe says:


    The theory I’ve bought into about what would happen in Charlotte is that the Checkers would be absorbed/graduated and the AHL team would then be known as the Checkers. It would put the successful ECHL team out of business but then allow for a higher profile AHL team to take over in its place.

    Asking for both to succeed there would be asking a lot and there’s no doubt the kid brother ECHL team would suffer worse for it. I doubt that was much on the mind of the RN&O reporter when he got his “scoop” and ran with it.

  4. On January 22, 2010 Cute~Ella says:

    I don’t care so much what team comes in as long as I can watch people get hit in the head with the “Chuck a Puck” and drink beer at games. :)

  5. On January 22, 2010 Tapeleg says:

    Going in reverse order:

    I wouldn’t ask the city of Charlotte to support both teams, but I don’t know if they would still be the Checkers. As nice as that would be, the previous owner would have to make some sort of transaction with the new franchise.

    But the thing is, that is still an ECHL franchise,l. As much as the AHL is tied to the NHL, and the ECHL is tied to te A, they are still separate entites, and that is a business deal that will have to be dealt with.

    But the AHL is a better fit for Charlotte, with their new big arena, and the money spent on changeovers from NBA basketball to hockey, an AHL franchise that could draw a better crowd would make that sort of financial burden a little more reasonable.

    And the poor Phantonms. They had such an easy travel destination for a little while.

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