While the low-minor hockey world had its eyes solely focused on Elmira, NY this afternoon, the news broke from the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, or North American Hockey League (no affiliation to the NAHL junior league in the USA) on Facebook and their website (Everything is in French FYI) that the league was adding a team in Berlin, New Hampshire for the 2018-19 season, with the league Facebook page noting that the league will have six teams for next season, even though it lists the six teams from last season still on the website, so somebody has since folded.
Per the league website, and poorly translated to English:
The North American Hockey League is pleased to announce that a new franchise will be entering the 2018-19 season.
Indeed, the city of Berlin in New Hampshire has confirmed its membership of the professional circuit in Quebec late Monday.
The new Commissioner of the LNAH, Mr. Jean-François Laplante is very excited about the arrival of a team south of the US border. “This is a great visibility for the LNAH and that, of course, it will surely create enthusiasm for other markets in this region,” says one who has been working on a number of issues since being hired as commissioner. . “With the arrival of American players this will bring a renewal that will be very exciting for our fans,” he said.
In addition, the selection process to fill the positions of Director of Officials and Disciplinary Prefect is coming to an end and announcements to this effect should be made in the coming days.
This brings pro hockey back to Berlin and the Notre Dame Arena for the first time since 2017.
LNAH is known as the “world’s toughest hockey league” and routinely turns up in YouTube videos for its line brawls, and just fights in general, something the league has tried to clean up in recent years. The league has played home to some fairly famous NHL names over the years, most during the 2004 NHL lockout year, including Stephane Richer, Eric Fichaud, Donald Brashear, and Yves Racine.
LNAH would be considered by some to be the French-Canadian version of the FHL, with the two leagues matching up fairly closely in terms of attendance and team turnover, while LNAH would be considered the better on-ice product due to many players having experience in higher leagues. The LNAH has seen roughly 20 teams fold since the league started playing in 1996, and has usually played with between six and 10 teams each season. Last season, just one of the six teams who played were still using their original name.
The league is different from other North American hockey leagues in that players in LNAH either must be from Quebec or have played their junior hockey in the province. There is rumor that the the league has eased these restrictions to allow American players for Berlin, but BLH could not officially confirm that news. The league also does not have veteran limits, so teams can bring back as many players as they want each season.
The city or Berlin was previously home to the short-lived Berlin River Drivers of the Federal Hockey League for two seasons, lasting from 2015 to 2017. Fan support (and a ton of other reasons that vary depending on who you talk with about the team) sunk the team after two years, with the River Drivers averaging 629 fans a night in their final season, sixth in the then 7-team FHL, and 600 fans a night in their inaugural season, fifth in the 6-team FHL that year, per the FHL site’s attendance numbers. HockeyDB claims attendance was about 30 fans more each season, but either way, it wasn’t enough to survive in the FHL. Some claimed the team needed to draw 1000 a night to make money in the FHL.
Both of those attendance figures would have been last in LNAH for the most recent season where attendance was listed, 2016-17, with attendance ranging from 688 a night, up to 1706 a night. League average that season was 1131 across seven teams.
To be completely honest, this move raises a ton of questions, because Berlin will have the smallest rink in the league, by far, and struggled with fan support while in the FHL. The four teams whose capacities were listed on Wikipedia were at 2476, 3037, 2500, and 3500.
Berlin’s Notre Dame Arena claims a capacity of 1680, which would make it the smallest in the league among those listed, but even that number may be exaggerated, as most pictures show that the rink only has about 6-8 rows of bleachers on one side of the rink, closer to around 1000 actual seats in our experiences.
Berlin will also have to deal with higher player salaries in the LNAH, around $200 to $500 a game, significantly more than the $150 in the FHL, but LNAH does only play a 36-game regular season.
But one other thing that may benefit Berlin: Having American money and playing in a league that is all Canadian otherwise. Right now one American dollar is worth $1.32 Canadian, potentially a big advantage, at least in that aspect.
We’ll have to see how this turns out, but for now, professional hockey is back in Berlin, New Hampshire and the Notre Dame Arena.