yankee hockey

THE LOWER DEPTHS

Posted in echl, stockton thunder, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 29, 2008

I went to my second ECHL game on Saturday (Stockton Thunder remember?), and it was as uneventful as ever. These are games to go to because they cost less then $25 for good seats. Don’t get me wrong, I do cheer for the home team, but watching them constantly lose, and they do constantly lose, doesn’t have the same emotionally draining aspect that I get from paying attention to the NHL. The friend who went with me asked at one point if we had a team in Sacramento if I’d start buying tickets for those games and leave the Thunder behind… uh, yeah. The Thunder lost to the Victoria Salmon Kings 4-1 in a completely listless game. The worst part is that I think, because of his blank white mask, that the Victoria goaltender must have just been called up from some even more minor league.  These guys never fail to remind you that they aren’t good enough for the NHL. If you’re lucky you get a few guys who are good enough for AHL, but unfortunately they quickly get called up. Still, it’s fun to watch, and it’s not like I spent half of my savings to get seats.

The only significant event Satuday was it was the first time I heard that the Fresno Falcons (another Central Valley ECHL team) had folded. It officially happened on the 22nd, but since I rarely spent my time listening to ECHL news I hadn’t been aware of it.

I was very surprised… not that an ECHL has folded because that happens all the time, but because it had happened in the middle of the season to one of the most tenured team in the league. The Fresno Falcons have been playing hockey since 1947! They’ve been in a lot of different leagues, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some years in between there where they may not have played for any leagues, but they’ve still existed for 61 years. That any hockey team, let alone a minor league one, has lasted that long in a city as hot and, well, awful as Fresno is as big as of a surprise as they sudden folding.

This must be causing league officials a little bit of panic. Upon checking the tickets I have for games later in the year I found one against the Falcons. They aren’t even half way through the season, so there’s going to be a lot of shuffling they’ll have to do, and quickly. With organizations like the NHL there are sure to be safe guards against this type of thing, perhaps insurance to make sure that a team could at least make it through the rest of the season, and they’re likely to be able to take over management for a team until an owner can be found. But in a place like the ECHL there is very little room for error. The owner of the Falcons, who also owns the minor league baseball and soccer teams in Fresno, anticipated a $500,0o0 loss if the team played out the season, not much for a pro team, but quite a bit when that represents a quarter of the teams worth.

There are more important issues at hand then those faced by the league, there are the issues faced by the players. There is no severance package when your team folds. More significantly, many of the players are foreign born and here on work visas, which means no unemployment, and not a lot of rights. These guys were here to play hockey, and they figured they’d at least be playing hockey until April. They have bills, they have debt, and they have families to feed. They don’t have a lot of opportunity to make money, they’re hockey players, it’s probably not so easy for them to go to the Walmart for work. The league has said that they are now considered free agents, but the teams in the ECHL are already full. Sure, there are some players who may be exceptional enough to get a contract, but there are more then just a few guys on a team, and many of these guys will not have the chance to get another playing job.

This whole situation is another reason why the NHL puts out a better product; you can trust that it will be there. There was that year when the strike destroyed the entire season, and it was awful, but you knew it would be back. The NHL is just too important, and too loved, to be gone forever. I was just thinking the other day about players like Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Mike Modano have all spent time playing on teams that don’t exist anymore, but they didn’t disappear from the league entirely. But now the Fresno Falcons are gone, possibly forever, and that makes it harder to believe in any minor league team. The Thunder do ok, the arena only holds like 9,000 people and they probably average about 5,000 tickets sold per game this year. The thing is, they always are losers, and their home record is dismal. Eventually, the curiosity of hockey in Stockton California will wear off and I might lose my minor league team. Well, maybe I’ll be lucky and they’ll move to Sacramento. I’d say that I might be lucky and the Falcons would move here, but we don’t have an arena for them to play in, so until that happens (read: never) I have to hope that the only hockey I don’t have to drive two hours to see stays put.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will Mats Sundin’s arrival in Vancouver this week inspire the Canucks to win some games? Who will finally beat Chicago? Who will finally beat the Caps at home? Is Ovechkin poised to take over the lead in goals? With Brassard out, who’s the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year? Who’s going to leave Ottawa with the IIHF World Junior crown?

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STUCK IN THE MINORS

Posted in echl, stockton thunder, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 1, 2008

Saturday was the first time this season I got to visit my local hockey team; The Stockton Thunder! Sure they may just be an ECHL team, and not an especially good one at that, but they’re mine team. Well, ok, they’re only my team cause for some reason Stockton, California (about 30 minutes or so south of Sacramento where I make my home) realized that it’s city, which is a quarter or mine, could support a minor league team. Meanwhile Sacramento has problems supporting their major league basketball team (a subject for a different blog however). I’m a little upset they beat us to it, the city of Sacramento has nearly 500,000 people living in it, and the metro area over 2 million, but this city struggles with putting public works together so it’s doubtful a place for a hockey team to play will ever be built here.

What’s the point of my little rant? Basically it’s that with San Jose two hours away, the Stockton Thunder! are my team. Every year I get a six game package for real cheap (cause who has the time to go to every ECHL game in a season), and head off with friends for an enjoyable evening of hockey. Truthfully, it is an enjoyable evening. The players never let you forget that you’re watching and ECHL game. Most of these guys will be lucky to get a sniff at the AHL, let alone the big show. The ones who show some promise get called up quickly leaving ECHL teams without enough talent to put on a top notch show. But, for the most part, that’s par for every team so the ice isn’t tilted in any ones favor. This is the kind of hockey you pay forty bucks for two seats for, and in the end it’s worth it.

The Stockton Thunder are currently a Coyotes farm team, and are hardly the most intimidating opponents in the league. Their first year they were a farm team for someone else… Nashville I think, and they stunk up the league. But the citizens of Stockton filled the arena every night. It was great to watch. An entire arena of people who had never seen hockey before but were dying to learn all about it so they could support their team. It was funny being the first one in the arena to cheer a goal while everyone else was trying to find the puck or waiting for the red light to flash. The second year they became an Oilers’ farm team and really began to rock. It was their most successful year, and the fans were getting better two. Last year was another stinker and this year isn’t looking much better. But who cares? I spent twenty bucks a ticket. They may be my team but I don’t have the kind of loyalty that makes me sad when they lose, I’m just glad to be able to drive a short distance away to watch an attempt at minor league hockey. I cheer for their goals, and moan for their goals given up, but whatever the outcome I leave happy.

This Saturday started out great with two pretty goals in the first period, followed by awful defense and sloppy forechecking for the next two. The final score was 4-2, beaten by the neighboring city team, the Fresno Falcons (how can Fresno and Stockton both have teams and not Sacramento!!!). The most fun part of the game, and often this is the case when I go, is explaining to the fans next to me how the game works. Some folks behind me had some confusion regarding game misconducts and boarding penalties. I think the best part was when the woman behind me said “But they push each other into the boards all the time and never get a penalty.” I think it’s important, as a hockey fan, to always help other people become better hockey fans. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about new fans because they don’t know how to watch or talk about the game. Well don’t tell them to piss off! Educate them. Lead them into the hockey bliss that veteran fans feel every time we hear a blade on ice, or a slap shot. I remember when FOX mad the puck glow red so viewers could follow it better and “true” hockey fans went nuts, like a slight glow ruins the nuance of the game. I fully supported the experiment, because if one more person said to themselves “Now that I can follow the puck, maybe I’ll watch the game.” Then that was one more hockey supporter in the world, and the sport really needs it.

In the end Stockton gave up an empty-net goal with .3 seconds left to play and my friend and I got up and shambled out of the arena. But unlike when I see my favorite professional team lose, we didn’t once complain about the officiating, or our teams work ethic, or that we had been cheated. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves. If any of you, dear readers, have a local minor league team, I suggest you go and support them, it’s all the fun without all the responsibility.

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

How many starts will Cory Schneider get while Luongo is out? What will Brian Burke’s first action as the Leafs’ GM be? Is this the week Brendan Shanahan gets signed? Can anyone stop the Sharks and their BlackArmor?

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