If you haven’t read WTIC’s Scott Gray’s column on the Governor’s appearance on Face the State with Dennis House you only missed out on more Connecticut sports media pessimism.
The Governor spoke about the NHL and that people should support the possible return of the NHL through UConn's hockey program. UConn will be moving to Hockey East to play the best college teams in the country next season. The Governor must think that will give Hartford hockey its own identity. He never mentioned the AHL in the interview.
Gray thinks the college path will bear no fruit because college level hockey wasn’t the driver of bringing NHL hockey to other cities.
How other cities obtain the NHL should be thought of more as a guideline than a road map when dealing with Hartford's path. Hartford is a unique hockey town and we don’t do things here like they do in other states. I am not saying it is better or worse but it is different. College support has been the easiest fan base to build in Connecticut.
When UConn basketball went big time, Connecticut fans showed up to support the team. When UConn went to division one football the Connecticut's support went from crowds of hundreds to a stadium that holds 38 thousand of them. There is a proven track record of growing support when it comes to UConn, as long as they are competitive. We haven't been able to say the same for the AHL.
One of Gray’s main concerns was that the Governor did not mention supporting the AHL. The state currently has two AHL teams, one in Bridgeport and one in Hartford. Gray points out that the Governor is disconnected because college hockey hasn’t generated an NHL team in North Dakota or that Minnesota didn't get their team back from watching college hockey.
The other path is to support the AHL. The AHL is a slippery slope in Hartford not to mention there isn't proof that AHL attendance impacts the NHL to move or expand. I do feel it certainly can't hurt Hartford's chances to have strong AHL attendance but it has not been proven a necessity that a new arena would be.
I wish Scott Gray could explain to us how Phoenix and their AHL market brought the NHL to the south west? I wish he could tell me how Miami’s AHL support helped them bring in the Florida Panthers? I wish he could show me how Seattle and Quebec are using the AHL support to build arenas to entice an NHL franchise to come to their city? I guess some of those cities just got lucky and others have a magic genie lamp.
Unfortunately some of Connecticut’s sports media ignore the Hartford hockey market, they have a more negative view of it than some fans have. You don’t see AHL coverage in the Hartford Courant all that often and you don’t see in depth coverage in the nightly local news. A unicorn sighting is rarer than continued coverage of the Wolf Pack or the Sound Tigers in the main stream media.
Even though nearly 200,000 AHL fans go through the XL Center a season, on average, Hartford hockey is treated like a ghost, hardly seen or heard from.
How can the sports media be connected if they aren't talking about the games? I can’t recall the last time I even saw Scott Gray at a Hartford AHL game?
Unfortunately, He is far from alone. Sightings of local network coverage happen but not regularly. I believe some sports media within Connecticut understand the climate of the Hartford hockey market as well as they understand the climate on Mars.
Gray said that Dennis House should have corrected the Governor on the importance of the AHL. Well, Dennis House may not be a “sports media person” but he certainly has done more coverage of important issues within Hartford hockey than any other sports media person that I can remember.
Scott Gray has had varying opinions on the AHL before.
In 2010 he told Whaler and Wolf Pack fans that if they didn’t get their act together they would be on the outside looking in when the NHL returned to Hartford.
Two years later, he wrote that the team should go back to being branded the Hartford Wolf Pack. MSG removed the Whale and did just that and since the re-re-branded Wolf Pack has drawn the lowest attendance average numbers since moving to Hartford in 1997.
If it wasn’t for the hard work of Global Spectrum, whom manages the Wolf Pack’s marketing, the attendance numbers would be worse.
The three groups who are interested in putting a team in Hartford have made the Governor a believer in Hartford on bringing back the NHL. I remember a couple of years ago Governor Malloy said to forget the NHL, he actually said there are other sports like our Trinity squash dynasty. That is about as disconnected as one can get. He was disconnected then.
Today he is a plug in a 220 volt outlet. He appears locked into this chance for the NHL. What I am trying to say is, I don't think he could be more connected right now. The Governor certainly has more information about the NHL in Hartford than Scott Gray does.
If Connecticut’s sports media paid more attention to the AHL they would know exactly why the Governor left out mention of the AHL. Why would the Governor of Connecticut ask people to support a team that could leave when they finally can support a permanent team of their own?
I don't know which members of the media within Hartford even know that both teams could be moving relatively soon? The rumors are rampant that the New York Islanders want to move the team from Bridgeport to Nassau after the Islanders vacate the facility and it gets a face lift. Once that happens it is also believed the New York Rangers will move their AHL team into Bridgeport.
If the Governor is aware that this will happen it makes perfect sense for him to tie support to a team that will not leave. UConn is not going anywhere.
Whatever the reason, the Governor didn’t leave out the AHL by accident. I am willing to bet there is more to the story.
Connecticut hockey fans continually pine for the NHL but most would be able to find some peace if they could just have a team that they can build a connection to. This has been the mark that the AHL teams in Connecticut have missed.
We all saw how corporations in Hartford responded when the team was the Connecticut Whale. The AHL gave out an award for incredible corporate sales to the Connecticut Whale staff; the brand had something to do with that. The Whale brand brought more Hartford hockey fan factions together than anytime since the NHL was here.
Perhaps if the media here in Connecticut would pay more attention to the AHL they would begin to understand it. They would be able to help it grow, and from there anything can happen.