ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s a gorgeous night in the Twin Towns and the “Team of 18,000″ is getting ready to sing State of Hockey here at the Xcel Energy Centre. It’s the Minnesota Wild, a day before Shane Hnidy’s 34th birthday, against the Dallas Stars, with Minnesota’s beloved Mike Modano, not only in the lineup but starting the game and playing on the No. 1 line, at age 39.
It’s been a shaky start to the 2009-2010 season for the Wild. Minnesota’s team heads into tonight’s game at 5-10-0 (1-7-0 on the road) and while the record hasn’t negatively affected the team’s attendance this season, it has been a grind on the staff.
“It’s tough,” said the Wild’s VP of communications Bill Robertson earlier tonight. “It’s a tough economy, it’s tough to sell tickets. We still sell every seat, but we’re not overflowing with standing room like we usually are and it’s tougher to sell corporate suites than it used to be.
“On the upside, merchandise sales are way up because of fans have really taken to our third jersey.”
It’s hard to listen to a guy — even a great guy like Billy Rob — worry about the fans in Minnesota after you’ve already seen games in Florida, Tampa and Nashville this season and have interviewed Doug Moss, the president of the Phoenix Coyotes (check out www.hotdoghockey.com for that interview). Those are markets with big trouble. There is no trouble at all in St. Paul.
However, no one ever would have believed that there could be trouble in Denver, the home of the Colorado Avalanche, and it appears now that there is.
Wednesday night, for a game against Phoenix, the Avalanche drew a franchise-low 11,012 (remember, that’s the announced crowd) ticket buyers. This season, the Avs have averaged just 14,759 through its first five home games and that once again means, “Who cares if MTS Centre has only 15,001 seats?” Not even the red-hot Colorado Avalanche average 15,000 per game these days.
(Oops, Cal Clutterbuck just scored a shorthanded goal from our pal Shane Hnidy.)
With an average of 14,759 per game, the Avalanche stand 25th in the NHL in per-game attendance ahead of only Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville, the New York Islanders and Phoenix.
Meanwhile, after watching the Atlanta Thrashers play on TV this week, in front of a crowd that appeared to include the players’ parents and no one else, it’s hard to imagine the Thrashers have the nerve to say they average more per game than the Avs or even the Winnipeg South Blues.
Meanwhile, there will soon be an ownership change in South Florida. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Alan Cohen’s days as majority owner of the Panthers are coming to an end, as two partners in his ownership group are expected to take control of the team.
Two Boca Raton businessmen, Panthers Vice-Chairman Cliff Viner and Managing Director Stu Siegel, will buy most of Cohen’s 43 per cent of the team and become co-managing partners.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Panthers fans are desperate for change. The team has not made the playoffs since 2000, the longest playoff drought in the NHL, and has undergone numerous coaching and general manager changes and traded away some of its best players, including Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester.”
But here’s the kicker, the paper added: “The ownership change is not expected to resolve the team’s financial struggles. The team’s parent company, Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, is seeking Broward County’s help to restructure its debt on the county-owned BankAtlantic Center.”
It’s a mess on Long Island, Phoenix is a disaster (only 5,585 this past Monday at jobing.com Arena), Tampa Bay and Nashville are hurting, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce has conceded that the Blue Jackets don’t have much life left and now Florida needs government help from a government that isn’t flush.
We all know Gary Bettman doesn’t want to admit it, but the NHL is in big, big trouble.
* * *
KELLY SAYS “BULL-CACA.” THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA DOESN’T RESPOND IN ANGER. WONDER WHY?
Friday morning, during an interview with Tom McGouran, Kathy Kennedy and The Coach, on 92-CITI-FM, Blue Bombers coach Mike Kelly poked the local mainstream media with a stick. Again.
Kelly, laughing all the way, said, “You guys have the only media outlet that isn’t bull-caca.”
He then added, “I don’t think I can be fined $2,000 by the league for saying ‘bull-caca.” Can I? ”
He was assured by McGouran that it was unlikely he’d be fined. In fact, McGouran agreed with him.
“Can’t be fined for telling the truth,” McGouran laughed.
That’s true to an extent. Kelly could still be fined because he told the truth the first time and was fined.
Then again, he had no bone to pick with CITI, a spot on the dial where the interviewers ask good, solid questions without being rude and obnoxious.