On the Topic Of Utica, Vancouver, and Affiliation Distance

When the westward move of the AHL began and many of the Western Conference teams started to move their affiliations, people thought it was a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks moved their affiliation out of Utica, New York for a closer destination.

Saturday’s announcement put a damper on that idea, at least until the 2020-21 season. That’s because the Canucks and Comets agreed to a new six-year affiliation extension; though it has an option for the Canucks after two seasons to depart upstate New York for somewhere else.

Business wise, Utica is great with president Robert Esche having built a great entertainment outlet. They’re in the midst of a 133-game sellout streak that started in April 2015, while they have been producing plenty of talent of the retooling Canucks– including head coach Travis Green. On the ice, it’s been solid as well with a 193-136-35-16, though the team only has two playoff appearances in the five full seasons the two teams have been affiliated. The Comets haven’t had a season under 35 wins, either.

Obviously, the distance between Utica and Vancouver is something that should be a worry when it comes to call-ups. However, does moving a team closer to the Canucks, namely the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, make sense when the AHL has tried and failed once before?? Of course, you can say the shortcomings of the Abbotsford Heat was the Calgary Flames being in Canucks territory– but would people actually be enthused to have AHL hockey when the NHL team is maybe an hour away??

Hockey fans can be fickle, so maybe seeing the future of the team may not be as good as seeing the team itself. Plus, when you’re the Canucks and own the Comets (leasing it to Esche and Utica), the fact that money and loyalty keeps rolling in up in Utica, you don’t want to kill that golden goose when it’s making profit. Plus, maybe keeping the young players away from the cutthroat media and possible extreme expectations that would come with being closer to the Canucks may be best for development of some players to be able to learn the system first before having it dissected by everyone in the Vancouver area.

It’s always a struggle when it comes to situations like this. You don’t want to move an affiliation when it’s working so well on the business and hockey side of things, but you also don’t want to have your prospects so far away in a place that’s not a major airline hub that it cuts into the roster of the NHL team. The Canucks have a delicate balancing act they’re doing, but as of right now– they seem to be winning out thus far with the marriage they have in Utica.

Everblades Trying to Make Yellow Ice a Good Thing at Hertz Arena

 

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Photo via @FL_Everblades

There’s helping out your arena’s title sponsor and then there’s what the Florida Everblades are doing this season. With the Germain Arena newly renamed Hertz Arena, the Everblades have made the ice a yellow tint for the season and most likely beyond that.

Of course, this sort of thing has happened before, but mostly as a one-off situation. Whether it be for Breast Cancer Awareness Night, St. Patrick’s Day, the NHL using the AHL as a testing ground for blue ice— there has been numerous times the ice has been colored…or that one time it was painted and looked like a meth’d out European rink.

Yet, the life of me, this is the first time I believe a team has done this for a full season. Granted, I’m sure teams have done it and if they have pop into the comment section to let me hear about it. The upside is that it’s not a bright yellow like the Predators uniforms. The yellow that is in the pictures just looks like the Hertz Arena needs a new lighting rig for the ice. When you look at the Hertz logo— it could have been much worse.

It’s not like the Everblades need an advantage at home, though. From 2014-15 until last year, the Everblades have registered 25, 23, 25, and 27 wins at the Hertz Arena, ranking among the top home records in the ECHL during that time– tied for second last year with Colorado just one win behind Toledo.

This team could be different for the Everblades, as Michael Kirkpatrick, Mitchell Heard, and Callum Booth are gone; but adding Justin Auger,  Kyle Platzer, and Jamie Phillips may need some time to adjust, but will probably fill-in just nicely as they get things going throughout the season.

There are not rave reviews after the start of the season. As I mentioned, many fans complained that the ice looked like it was dimly lit, but the players have a different take on it all, as Joe Cox told the Naples Daily News: “It definitely made the ice a little bit slushier, so the puck was definitely bouncing a little bit more, moving slow.”

Overall, this is good synergy for the Everblades and Hertz. On top of the ice, the warm-up jerseys for the Everblades is bright yellow with Hertz under the collar. This is a team that’s making sure they’re taking care of their sponsors and keeping them happy by getting their name out there. Every dollar counts in the minor leagues and if you have to go to extremes like tinting the ice yellow….well, it’ll at least give it that old-time hockey feel out there.

AHL Gets It Right With New AHLTV

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Ditching NeuLion was the only thing the AHL had to do to really sell to the masses. Today (September 5th), the AHL announced their new streaming platform for 2018-19 which will give fans the chance for All-Access to every team in the AHL for only $79.99 a year, excluding the taxes and stuff. But this is in comparison to $349.99 from last season with NeuLion.

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Seriously, if you don’t think a $270 difference will get people to subscribe, you’re wacky. Plus, the fact that they’re trying to get away from the whole NeuLion situation of using the jumbotron feed and radio call and call it a day. Of course, we don’t know how this new platform will be put out there and it could be the same old style…but at least the price is much more bearable to deal with. What NeuLion put out there is what the price now for AHL TV should have been.

Yet, the pressure is now onto the AHL TV system. They’re promoting all the bells and whistles with real-time highlight clipping, fan controlled camera, highlight sharing, all kinds of stuff detailed in their YouTube presentation. HockeyTech, who is helping with the AHL TV, is a company I haven’t heard many bad things about– but I’m sure they have their foibles as much as any other company. Yet, they could probably only go up from what was had with AHL Live.

The one thing the AHL wasn’t able to do with NeuLion is the price– with Hockey Tech at the helm, they close that gap to the fans and will be able to gather a better audience with a much better price point for the whole season. Hell, even the All-Access option is $20 more than the one-team All Access situation, so why not go for the whole league??

Smart move, AHL and here’s hoping it’ll be as good as they’re making it out to be.

Summer Reading: Barracuda Nostalgia Sparks Idea For Other Retro Nights

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With the announcement of the San Jose Barracuda having jersey/theme nights to honor the affiliates of the San Jose Sharks past, it made me wonder if more teams should go and do it. Nostalgia is a helluva selling point for people, both in-arena and online. A gimmick like this creates a lot of buzz and could move a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise to help out a team.

On the flip side, it’s a bit morbid. It’s a showing of failed teams, possibly failed markets, and while it’s nice– could rub some people the wrong way if they are bitter enough about losing their team.

Regardless of that, however, and regardless if you asked my opinion or not– but here’s some teams who I’d enjoy seeing honor their old affiliates. Of course, my top pick would be the Capitals to show off the old Richmond Robins, Baltimore Skipjacks, and Portland Pirates jerseys….but a team like the Hershey Bears wouldn’t give up their tradition to honor someone else’s– especially since they have outlasted those teams.

So– in no particular order:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: First in the alphabet, first one on this list. The Ducks have had some great affiliates– the short-lived Baltimore Bandits and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, but they weaved their way through some solidly established teams, like the Syracuse Crunch and Norfolk Admirals. However, if there’s one team I want to see again, it’s the Iowa Chops. One season wasn’t enough and if the San Diego Gulls wanted to move merch, that’s the way to do it. Of course, the Gulls are at the top of attendance and probably merch, so they don’t need that big of a boost.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: While the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the longest affiliate the Islanders have had, the stops they’ve had along the way has been great and aesthetically amazing. The Thoroughblades are represented again (as seen above), but also the gaudy Salt Lake Golden Eagles jerseys, the early Lowell Lock Monsters jerseys, and the Utah Grizzlies‘ jerseys with a giant shoulder patch would really steer the memories, especially from the IHL fans.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: Including the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes have only had five affiliates– but what affiliates they have been. The Beast of New Haven could have the worst logo of all time, the Cincinnati Cyclones, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Albany River Rats add to the memorable logos of affiliates past for the Hurricanes.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: What’s not to like about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Baltimore Skipjacks, or the Broome Dusters….jacks. While the motif is pretty much the same in the black and gold, the older logos would be solid in a modern setting.

MINNESOTA WILD: While the Iowa Wild is the third of the AAA-affiliates for the Wild, the Houston Aeros look would be nice– but why not add some ECHL flavor?? The Louisiana IceGators looks would be solid, same with the Texas Wildcatters, Mississippi Sea Wolves, and Johnstown Chiefs; though it seems like a better option for the Allen Americans to do with their new ECHL affiliation with the Wild.

There’s plenty to go around. Minor league teams change like the tide, though thanks to teams owning their affiliates and markets being very solid in the industry– that’s slowed down a bit. Maybe there’s entire weekends that could be “Turn Back the Clock” weekends to bring back a little retro flavor and put some much needed attention onto the minor leagues. Anything in the name of a good gimmick.

Seventeen Years Ago, It Started in a Garage

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In a garage in Lanham, Maryland- Broadcast Monsters Inc. had created their own, totally in-house hockey internet radio show out of the ashes of another hockey show. They had created shows for a year in a market of streaming media which was very untapped and created a format of “archived, on-demand streaming” which predated the podcast format and allowed people to not have to worry about appointment listening.

And on this date (August 8th) in 2001, the Face Off Hockey Show was born. It was supposed to be a hodge-podge debate show in the same vain as Pardon The Interruption, but it soon morphed into four friends getting together to talk about their life….and then occasionally hockey when it warranted.

Sure, I write something like this every year, but it still amazes me that we get another year older for this show that probably shouldn’t have been with everyone of the hosts moving locations a couple times for those years (which you can hear in our Patreon Extra Shows). For 17 years, we’ve been doing an average of a show a week– some weeks we have extra shows, some weeks someone is sick or technology gets the best of us and we don’t have one. Yet, since 2001– a month before the iPod came out– we started a show that’s still going today. Hell, it’s what gave me my most notoriety and allowed me to do what I’ve done since 2001.

This show has been with me for just under half my life. Hell, I haven’t been in a relationship as long as I’ve been on this show. Maybe that speaks more about me than my commitment to the show, but I digress. Even through all the moves– Marc’s on his 39th studio area and I’ve gone through two states and a province– we’ve still done this whole damn thing and made it work for two hours a week.

These past 17 years have been full of memorable moments, full of fun, full of debates, full of stupid shit that probably only makes us pop for ourselves. We’ve been able to get credentialed for NHL Events, NHL Parties, AHL, ECHL, NCAA, WHL, World Juniors– a whole helluva lot. However, it’s been tougher in recent years, as it seems those in the NHL Communications department doesn’t think we’re worthy enough on our own history to be credentialed under Face Off Hockey Show– this showing when I met someone in that department and when I mentioned who I did podcast for….they knew who I was, what the show was, and didn’t seem too pleased with either. But that only drives me more to get you to know our name and, as the kids say– put some respect on it.

It’s been awesome. But there’s still a lot to come from Face Off Hockey Show and the Face Off Hockey Show Media Faction. With the Media Faction, we’ve added the Soderstrom Bubble and will be adding a yet-to-be-named Maryland hockey podcast which will follow the NAHL’s Maryland Black Bears, all the club hockey teams, all the Marylanders in pro hockey, some of the high school stuff– and maybe add more stuff to our network; who knows. We’ve had a wrestling podcast just waiting for a while now– the stars just haven’t aligned.

For the people who have listened for a while or if their first show was a week ago– thank you. While we mostly do this show for ourselves because we like to talk to each other about hockey and see what everyone is up to– we also appreciate the friends we’ve made from the people who have listened to our insane podcast. We appreciate you though we may act like total asses about it.

Thanks to everyone who has listened, who might listen, or who have supported us without listening (Thanks Mama Wazz and Big Stan)– we appreciate it more than you know.

Here’s to another 17 years.

The State of Wazz Address

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The State is Maryland….always has been, always will be.

In any case, it’s a new NHL season today since contracts for players only go to July 1st, really screwing over the broadcasters who have to cover this event in Canada on their Independence Day– but that’s the NHL for you. However, with a new year– probably time to give some kind of update about what will happen this upcoming season with regards to blogging, podcasting, and the like. New year, new me, right??

BLOGGING

Okay, so I took some kind of break because there’s not much to write about and there’s only so much John Tavares content people can bear. It’s been a fun time with the Capitals playoff run, but it won’t all be about the Caps and Maryland Black Bears– it’ll be a very heavy influence; but as the season goes on, I’ll get back to all the Tepid Takes and other “feature-esque” work that I’ve done in the past. It may be a little slow in the summer months (as it always is), but it’ll pick up from there I hope.

There’s a possibility I’ll do some minor league stories, but to be honest– I fell out of love with minor league hockey. It was something to try and reinvent myself for a bit and it worked for a while. Then things changed and I lost the passion for it. Maybe the bug will come back, but I really don’t think it’d be the same as it was during the FOHS Farm Report/The Sin Bin time. Interests changes, things happens, and you have to move on from something you’ve lost interest in if it’s completely a by-the-numbers role you’re playing.

There’s an off chance that there could be more NASCAR coverage, so if you’re into that– awesome; if not– that’s cool, too, but don’t get annoyed if it does happen. I mean, I do co-host a NASCAR podcast so….

PODCASTING

There’s not going to be major changes in the substance of the podcasts– let that be known. It’s just a matter for us as a whole to be better with the promoting and things like that. Expect Face Off Hockey Show and The Soderstrom Bubble to be more active promoting things overall. If we want to leave any kind of mark where we can’t be denied about our participation in big NHL events, this is the way to do it. We will hope that you help in that process for promoting stuff you like about our Media Faction. Even if it is talking about our Patreon to others to help offset costs and things like that for the show.

That said, there could be a new Untitled Podcast coming your way from the FOHSMF– that just depends on time, effort, and actually doing it. Stay tuned around early September for a decision on that.

In The Draft Show with Wilson and Wazz will continue on as normal– which I know you’re all happy about. Or not. I really don’t know the feeling about my readers and NASCAR.

OTHER LIFE THINGS

Aside from the whole “try to eat better and workout more” and other usually January 1st resolutions….there’s a project I’ve been collecting things for. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, but just keep putting off and doubting myself in terms of what the response would be from it. It’s really just a matter of actually doing it– as it goes with most projects– so I’m going to try and be better with actually making that come to life.

And be a little more present in life and actually thriving in the moment. Yeah, it’s zen BS, but it’s my zen BS.

…and that’s what’s up. It’s the update you didn’t know you wanted and probably still don’t care much for. Such as life and it’s an outlook on what you can expect from me this summer and moving forward.

Welcome the St. John’s Brimleys….err…Growlers

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While it wasn’t much of a secret, the St. John’s ECHL team made it official on Tuesday, as they will be named the Growlers as they enter into the 2018-19 season. Hockey will be back at The Rock with presumably the Toronto Maple Leafs as the primary affiliate– though nothing official on that has been brought forward.

The logo, as you can see, is an angry Newfoundland dog. That seems a bit oxymoronic given the loving nature of these creatures. However, there is a tie-in to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, as the logo was inspired by the mascot for the RNR in World War I, Sable Chief. Given the historically nature behind it, I feel bad for saying it looks a little like Wilford Brimley, but not bad enough to stop making that comparison.

As the second Canadian team in the league and third all-time, the Growlers are going to have a lot to manage, especially with being the furthest team east by over 1,200 miles. When Scott Wheeler did his piece about the Brampton Beast’s travels (PAYWALL BLOCK), you can only imagine how hellish the Growlers’ road trips are going to be. Also, after years of being in the AHL– how will the fan base receive the team. Will they be happy enough just to have a hockey team there to support it or will they feel like they could have gotten a QMJHL team and resent the team?? Time will tell, but I believe the former will be a lot more of a result than the latter.

Puck drops October 12th for the Growlers, as they play the Eastern Conference champions (and waiting for the Kelly Cup to start) Florida Everblades at Mile One Centre.

What We Learned About the SPHL Challenge Round Selection Show

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When the SPHL came up with their Challenge Round before their season, it created a lot of buzz about the idea overall and how it could be pulled off. On Sunday night, it was put to the task and, honestly, went off with flying colors. The concept, the broadcast, the production– in my eyes– all great and a great way for the SPHL to really put themselves out there as a league.

They broadcast opened with a hot crowd in Huntsville while the Challenge Round montage began. It was a welcome sight to see  Eli Gold and Terry Crisp as MCs, two guys who have a history of hockey, especially with Gold being the play-by-play guy for the Birmingham Bulls– which means he’s seen the league in a big way this season. Gold also worked for the Nashville Predators alongside Crisp– who is still with the team.

Gold made sure to talk about history of the challenge round in hockey in other countries like Switzerland and Austria, while also putting over the SPHL in creating a widespread buzz of this concept across the North America sporting landscape. Gold also mentioned how game-changing the SPHL has been by starting three-on-three OT to North American hockey.

Onto the actual picks by the teams. Gold explained some of the reasoning that teams could have for picks and then went off to say how a lot of teams didn’t have their real home-ice due to scheduling. It went then into  a video montage of what the league is about for outliers who may be tuning into the show.

Now– the picks. Peoria as the first seed was first pick and they kept it a 1/8 match-up picking the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. This is an interesting match-up because neither team will have their home-ice. Roanoke will play at Liberty University, while Peoria will have to go to their practice rink. Second pick, the Macon Mayhem decided to switch it up a bit, as they will play the sixth seeded Evansville Thunderbolts, believing in a better match-up against them than Mississippi, while the third seed Pensacola went with the fifth seed Knoxville Ice Bears, leaving Huntsville with the seventh seed Mississippi.

Overall…not too much over-the-top as some would have predicted, but it did cause for a bit of drama when it came to who would pick who and why. The idea is a solid one and the broadcast was a nice added touch to help those who didn’t know much about the SPHL going into it.

This could get some more eyes on the league if there are some upsets in this first round. It always creates that mentality of the top-ranked team having to really hold serve and justify their pick, while the underdog can have the feeling of a team picking them because they were thought to be weak, but now have to turn the tables to make it right.

Thunderbolts Looking to Spark Attendance with Free Tickets

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The Evansville Thunderbolts are employing an interesting strategy for their first playoff game. The team, which is 10th in the 10-team SPHL in attendance, is offering free admission to their first playoff game.

Heading into their last weekend, Evansville will have the sixth or seventh spot– seventh if Mississippi wins out and Evansville loses out; though Evansville can sneak up to fifth if they win out and Knoxville loses out. Of course, with the new playoff format– the Thunderbolts are pretty much sitting ducks for the top three teams in the whole Pick-Your-Poison playoff system the SPHL has.

However, the question is does this sully the SPHL if teams need to have free admission to their first playoff game?? Sure, it’s “Single A” hockey, but it’s still a business. You have to think that other teams don’t think highly of a team in the playoffs just giving away their seats to people and not turning a profit. It cuts into the team and possibly the league’s bottom line.

That said, it could also be something that creates fans in an area that needs to get back to their glory days in the ECHL by putting in– at the worst point– over 4,000 people on average with over 5,400 at it’s peak. You can believe that there are still people sour over the whole situation Ron Geary had in moving the team to Owensboro and then eventually Jacksonville when Owensboro didn’t work out.

Even if it isn’t the old Icemen fans coming back to see this new team, playoff hockey is a chance to create new fans. People also say that they became a bigger fan of the game when they attended it live and experienced the speed and excitement of the game. Now, double that when it comes to the playoffs and how that could play out and you may have new ticket holders after that experience.

It doesn’t look good on the surface, sure– but at the same time, it’s pretty ingenious. Giving away tickets to this franchise’s first playoff appearance after finishing dead last in their inaugural season in 2016-17 could be a big way to get some buzz around the team and turn people into supporters. It allows some families who may not be able to afford a playoff game a chance to experience it with their kids. It creates some kind of community togetherness, also– maybe getting the city to rally behind this team after their other one was ripped from them.

The real question is how it will actually play out and how much they’ll be able retain after the first playoff game is done. That falls on the marketing and promotion departments in a big way to help maintain it all.

Good luck, Thunderbolts– make this opportunity count.

Wanna Fix the NHL Playoffs?? Put in the Pairwise

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People are really talking about changing the NHL playoff format?? The hell is wrong with y’all??

I know you’re never going to make everyone happy. The divisional way to go about the playoffs is what people thought they wanted– but they hate that already. The top-eight isn’t something that people wanted due to times of a weak divisional leader skewing the leaders. The top-16 regardless of conference was something people didn’t like at first, but seem to be warming up to. The idea of all the teams getting in is being put out there with Seattle coming into the fold.

You know whatever is chosen– if anything– people will get behind it and subsequently loathe it two years later when they feel their favorite team gets screwed because of positioning or whatever.

But you know what will really piss everyone off with the exception of a scant few?? Put a Pairwise situation together for the NHL playoffs. Do it like the NCAA and really get the FancyStats heroes get their calculators and algorithms going. As someone who had to deal with figuring out the Pairwise (and still haven’t)– there’s nothing more frustrating that having to deal with other teams in order to get your strength of schedule up and going.

It’s a long-shot, but it’s just as good as suggestions everyone else is throwing out there. The evolution of stats would make this the ideal thing to do and get people really interested in it. And in all honesty, what’s the best way to get people interested in teams all across the league?? Make it so that if you put the top-16 teams into the playoffs; the Rangers have to root for the Sharks to win a divisional game in order to boost the Rangers Pairwise ranking, despite maybe not having as good a record.

Let’s put something to rest, too– the SPHL format of picking your opponent WON’T WORK. NHL heads are still too traditional for that. Not only that, but that is more a minor league gimmick– let that be in the minor leagues. The NHL gets enough guff from the sporting world that they don’t need to be the professional league that makes their league like “Whose Line Is It Anyway!?” where the points don’t matter and you make it up as you go along.

There’s nothing wrong with the way the playoffs are as it is right now. It helps promote rivalry within the division and make those several games a year mean something. Plus, it helps push the NBCSN farce of a Rivalry Night every Wednesday– which is why it won’t change. It’s not perfect– nothing will be. People are fickle and so is sport. Best to just enjoy what you got until your team gets screwed by the system and then have this debate all over again…..next season.