It’s been a big couple weeks for the Federal Hockey League, with expansion teams being announced in Elmira, New York and then in Mentor, Ohio, giving hockey fans in those towns a pro team of their own to root for.
You’ve probably read or heard some of the horror stories of the FHL that have happened in past seasons, and perhaps those stories have given you pause about if you want to spend your money on such a product, and that is completely understandable.
Because the FHL has made some questionable decisions in the past, but Elmira and Mentor are their attempts at righting the ship, and becoming a more legitimate, respected hockey league.
Shawn has touched on this before, and I’m sure I will touch on a lot of those same points, but I hope for the sake of both towns, and for the hockey fans there, that the fans come out and support their new teams, because this is either your last shot, or only shot at having pro hockey in your town.
And while I’m addressing this to Elmira and Mentor, this same story could go for Berlin, New Hampshire in the LNAH, or any other town that has a new hockey team this year.
Let’s start with Elmira. Elmira hit the hockey scene in 2000 and was an instant success, routinely packing the First Arena in town, and drawing so much support (and having close proximity to other teams) that they moved up to the ECHL after the 2007 season. Well, that lasted 10 years, and the team folded after the 2017 season.
New owner Robbie Nichols tried to bring a team last year, couldn’t get it done in time, but got it done this summer to bring pro hockey back to the region.
I bring up the Jackals, not as something to compare this new team against, but as a point that, the city had a team in the ECHL and it failed. The old league they were in, the UHL, is a memory of hockey fans that is now more than 10 years old.
So if people in Elmira want pro hockey, the FHL is it. The AHL isn’t coming to town, the ECHL likely isn’t coming back, and the team is just too far north and separated from the rest of the teams in the SPHL for them to realistically consider extending an invite. Same goes for LNAH even after its addition of Berlin.
So if you are hoping to see pro hockey of any sort, the FHL is your last and only shot at it. And that’s a pretty damn good reason to come out and watch hockey. Because if the FHL fails in Elmira, there’s nowhere else to go.
For Mentor, there is no other pro hockey they could ever realistically get there, or would even consider it. The arena holds 1600 people, about the perfect FHL size, but far too small for any other leagues, not to mention the same geography issues that Elmira faces.
And weirdly, that’s sort of the beauty of the FHL model, is that towns and rinks that would otherwise have no shot at having a pro team, in any sport, may be an option for the FHL.
That’s how a place like Mentor, which, despite having only just under 50,000 people, which is on the larger side of population compared to the non-Winston Salem teams in the FHL, can get a team of their own.
Now, I’m not saying that hockey is never coming to these towns again if either team fails, there is junior hockey, and the NAHL had been rumored to have been sniffing around Elmira prior to the FHL getting the spot, and the rink in Mentor would honestly be a pretty perfect size and environment for the NAHL (or maybe USHL if they could ever expand it a bit), but like I’ve mentioned a couple of times above, if you want pro hockey in your town, for both it’s the FHL or nothing.
And for some hockey fans, they do not want to see junior hockey. It took my hometown more than five years to embrace their junior team after 50 years of having pro hockey. Whether fans want to admit it or not, there is a stigma of watching “kids” hockey compared to pros, no matter the league, and some people will only come out if it is pro players.
Again, I mentioned above that you will hear or read, or have heard or read, about some of the league’s past follies, but these teams deserve a chance.
Don’t let someone telling you a story about the league, even if it is true, make your decision for you.
If you’re a hockey fan, go out, see a game in person, see what the arena experience is like, what you think of the quality of play, how the other fans in the arena are, how the organization treats fans.
See for yourself, and if you don’t like it and don’t want to come back, then you’re out only $10-15 for a ticket, which is more than fair to go see first-hand if it’s something you want to continue supporting.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the FHL is amazing hockey, or that you’re seeing future NHL guys, but it just might be a fun experience, or enough of an escape from the everyday world, or just something to root for. Even if it’s not the hockey, maybe all those other reasons are enough to keep coming back.
And I really do hope that hockey fans in Elmira and Mentor take that to heart, because as much fun as it is for Shawn and I to wax poetic about the old days of pro hockey in our hometowns, it was more fun to be at the games cheering with other fans. This is your chance at that.
So get out there, give your team a shot, because if you want a pro hockey team to call your own, this is your last and only shot.