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Ed Willes, The Province
Published: Thursday, October 26, 2006

U.S. hockey markets struggling

In Vancouver, where the Canucks would sell out against a bantam house team from Fort Langley, we take it for granted that GM Place will be packed and crackling with atmosphere.

Turns out, however, that's not the way it works elsewhere in the NHL. Turns out, based on the recently concluded road trip at least, the Canucks are something of an anomaly.

In their four-game swing through St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas and Chicago, they played in buildings that were stale, undersold and -- with the possible exception of the between-periods mullet contest in Nashville -- devoid of anything resembling excitement.

The Canucks, as things transpired, did just fine with three wins in the five-game road trip, including a 5-0 triumph in the finale at the United Center on Wednesday night. But if you ever sat in the old Chicago Stadium, or the old St. Louis Arena for that matter, you wonder what's happened to the NHL in those markets.

"You get immune to it in Canada," said Canucks centre Brendan Morrison, who's also the team's rep on the NHLPA. "But it's an eye-opener when you come to the States. It's embarrassing. We need Chicago. We need this market.

"Talking to guys on the team, this used to the top market in the league. It's embarrassing really, a great hockey city like this. To come in here and have it one-third full or half-full and the worst atmosphere in the league is disheartening."

Wednesday night, the Canucks met the Blackhawks at the United Center but if anyone cared in the Windy City, you'd have a hard time proving it by the attendance. The crowd was announced at 11,641 in the 20,500-seat cavern and, if anything, that figure seemed a trifle inflated.

As mentioned, this was also something of a recurring theme on their four-game tour through the American cities over the last six days after they opened in Edmonton last Tuesday.

Friday night in St. Louis, an announced crowd of 9,049 watched the Canucks win 3-2 in overtime although eyewitness accounts report about 4,000 were in attendance . Saturday night in Nashville, a sellout of over 17,000 was expected at the Gaylord Entertainment Centre and barely 16,000 showed up.

Monday night in Dallas, the Stars found themselves in the uncomfortable situation of going up against the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants Monday night NFL game. Again, a crowd of 16,639 was announced but the real number was about half that amount.

Then there was Wednesday night. The Hawks, who once played before the most passionate, loyal fan base in the NHL, have basically lost a generation of fans through inept management, boneheaded personnel decisions and a marketing plan right out of 1947.

We need not revisit every mistake the Hawks have made over the last decade -- OK, here's one, this season five of their home games will be televised locally -- but in the new NHL, it's also imperative the team rebuild it's brand.

As Morrison said, the players, who receive 54 per cent of league revenues as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, need the market. But the NHL needs the market just as badly.


961 Posts

The chicago black hawks, st louis blues and boston bruins lost alot when they moved out of there old rinks.there was nothing like going to a game at chicago stadium, boston garden and the st louis arena.these historic arenas were torn down because of greedy owners and now they are paying for it. there were people who gave up there season tickets when these arenas closed and have never gone back. who can afford these prices for tickets today.and the views for the fans in these new arenas are not great at all.granted there are no posts but the fans sit a mile away from the action in those arenas. these teams also lost home ice advantage when they left these historic and classic arenas. as i said earlier in the post these owners are now paying the price for these new toilet bowl arenas.
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