All of the talk around the FHL lately has been about expansion, and rightfully so after Carolina Thunderbirds GM Scott Brand admitted on Sunday that the league has two expansion teams lined up for 2018-19.
It was huge news for the league and fans, and reports are that we could be getting an official announcement about a certain city in Northern Ohio soon.
While that’s all well and good, it leaves the league with a problem if it comes to fruition: They would have seven teams for 2018-19, an odd number, meaning once every four weeks a team would have to sit a weekend out with no opponent available for that particular weekend.
But, what if there was no North Shore for the upcoming season, and would that be the worst thing that happened to the league? Let’s go back to Sunday.
In that radio show Sunday, Scott Brand admitted two things, one which we all knew (the depth of which may depend on who you talk with), and one which was news to everyone.
First, that North Shore is essentially a development team, one not really there to win games, but to give younger players a chance to get pro experience. Multiple people have told us that North Shore is basically fronted by junior teams in the pay-to-play GMHL that are owned by the same group as the Knights, and they use some of those players in FHL games to round out the roster and get experience.
The other bit of news about this is that when North Shore came into the league (then as the St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints), the group had three GMHL teams to feed into the team. After the first season, one folded and they were down to two. Well, now that’s down to one after the Seguin Huskies folded, leaving just the Kingsville Kings of Kingsville, Ontario, who play out of the same rink that the Knights played a handful of games last year. And there are people wondering if Kingsville is next to go from the GMHL.
Second, that currently North Shore doesn’t have a home rink. I get they kind of didn’t last season, only playing a handful of home games in Kingsville while selling off the rest of them, but Brand flat-out said, that at the moment they do not have a place to play games.
Combine those two things, along with the news that the league has two expansion teams lined up, and it certainly makes sense from the league’s point of view that the Knights not take the ice in the fall.
I won’t say what I think of North Shore, but there are those who view the team as a black eye on the league, because they don’t win, they get 70 fans a game at the handful of home games they do have, and anyone who discredits the FHL always points at North Shore as the biggest reason for that.
But if you take them out of the equation, suddenly you have four very solid to great teams in Carolina, Danville, Port Huron, and Watertown. Teams who average 2100 to about 700 fans a night, above or just below what people in the FHL says is needed to break even. If you have those four strong teams, plus two expansion teams that do well at the gate in their first season, let’s say 1000 a night, and suddenly you have a six-team league that looks pretty solid, and is maybe intriguing to more towns looking to bring in a team of their own.
And it just might boost attendance across the league too, particularly in Watertown where they wouldn’t have to see the Knights and Northern Feds 10-plus times a year. I have no way of knowing this, but I would venture that the crowds at games featuring North Shore as the opponent were lower than crowds when say Carolina, Port Huron, or Danville came to town. (Looked it up, last Watertown home game against North Shore: 503, nearly 200 a night fewer than the Wolves averaged)
So with only one team potentially feeding into North Shore, and no rink at the moment, it’s not that far-fetched that we may not see the Knights take the ice next season. And if it means the league has an even six teams, six strong teams, on the ice for the season, that honestly might not be the worst thing for the FHL.
But it is worth noting that Brand did say the league and the team are looking for a location for them to play, so there is still a lot of time left before this saga is settled.