The Legacy of the North Shore Franchise

In all the exciting expansion talk, and praise of legitimacy for the Federal Hockey League this off-season, we cannot ignore what it marks for the league – again.

Another off-season of losing a franchise. This time, the North Shore Knights.

Granted, this is an addition-by-subtraction, and was a calculated move to cut a cancer, it cannot go without saying that from the start, the Saint Clair Shores / North Shore franchise was destined to fail.

Let’s look back at the history of one of the most depressing franchises in recent FHL history.

For those who remember, this franchise started off in 2016 as an at-the-time rarity – a pure expansion. Not from the league, via neutral-site game, or a relocation.

It started in St. Clair Shores, Michigan; a metro-Detroit lakeside community that has a youth hockey-heavy history. Even more surprisingly, it had legitimate local ownership and funding – no puppets or any tricks under the sleeve.

Ownership saw the renaissance that Port Huron was having with the Prowlers, and decided the time was right to ride the in-state high and seek the city’s first professional hockey team.

Local management and ownership weren’t strangers, either.

The team had been getting legitimate press coverage from the Detroit Free Press, MLive.com, local news stations, and plenty of attention across social media from some notable local reporters. They even had a radio broadcast partner in ESPN Radio MRSN – who you may remember has been the home of the Prowlers, and currently hosts the IHL.

They picked a logo, name, and color scheme that they felt properly represented the community, and the reaction was mostly positive.

So – what went wrong, after so many positives?

The death of this organization was almost formulaic in nature. Let’s break it down.

“Home” Schedule

For any new organization, as much face-time as possible is a necessity. Why root for a team you can’t watch and have no otherwise vested interest in?

Home games are a new team’s lifeblood, and, well…

The FHL wasn’t all too willing to allow them to develop any fan base.

This is ridiculous. FIVE neutral-site games for a league is…a bit much when you can’t hold a steady franchise. But for ONE team to bear the load? That’s ridiculous. The FHL pack-muled the Saints as a traveling circus for their own foolish agenda of Canadian expansion.

But wait! There’s more! When Battle Creek’s interest in the FHL sprung, and The Rink was awarded a short-notice neutral-site, who was shipped off?

Of course. Also note that Berlin was forced over.

Now, to the leagues credit, Battle Creek was looking to relocate SCS to their arena if the neutral-site game was a success.

The problem, as you may remember, was that it wasn’t. 78 was the total attendance for the game, and it looked emptier than that.

Regardless, it was another lost home game for an, at this point, already doomed SCS franchise.

The Marketing

In professional sports, when you get a lift off the ground from so much local media profiting off your existence, you HAVE to ride it. I followed the Saints closely, because I actually have family in the area and wanted to broadcast for the team. I applied I think three times, to no avail, but that’s a different story. From following them on twitter, Facebook, and in the news, I’d almost forgotten that there was a team.

It’s not like they were in a Mentor/Elmira situation where they didn’t have a team until August – the team was officially announced in April with the staff, and the name, logo, and jerseys came in mid-May.

However, very little team-based marketing happened, and soon the early adapters and spark the team got, burnt out.

The team became very niche, and in a community like SCS where professional hockey has surrounded the community nearby, at higher-levels, there was little reason to go to a low-level minor game anymore.

Which leads to the final dagger…

The Arena

With all due respect to the City of Saint Clair Shores, the Saint Clair Civic Arena is, uh…not a professional hockey rink.

That plays a much bigger deal than many will say. When you go to a low-level hockey game, you want it to feel like a professional hockey game – talented teams, fights, goals, and a real hockey arena.

SCCA is very clearly a youth-hockey or at best high school arena. Which is all he was ever meant to be! You’re not getting that professional hockey feeling and experience going there. You immediately get sucked out of the moment.

That’s damning, and certainly lead to the lack of popularity. This is what many fear for Mentor.

Combine these ingredients together and you’ve got the perfect cocktail of a failed team. The attendance proves it.

The Move

From roughly the middle of the 2016-17 season, it was pretty evident that was the end of Saint Clair Shores’ franchise…at least in Michigan.

Remember how the team played that game in Kingsville, Ontario? A local GMHL owner certainly did! Thus, giving the league the North Shore Knights.

NINE NEUTRAL-SITE GAMES. A 24-game home schedule and you have NINE home games at not home. How could it possibly fail?

Oh, right. That’s how.

You may be asking how the team could even afford to finish the season, let alone be considered for this upcoming season.

This is how.

The owner of the Knights took advantage of his dual-ownership, and would “call-up” junior players to bolster his roster, then send them back down and call up different players.

What junior player would turn down the chance to play pro hockey at such a young age?

For North Shore, they were essentially getting pay-to-play pros and pocketing their thousands.

This isn’t speculation or my opinion, by the way. This was told to me by various sources in the FHL.

This team became a terrible joke of the league, and wasn’t even competitive. Everyone had a feeling of what was going on, too.

The End

With the hope of expansion to six teams, the league rightfully and wisely put North Shore on the chopping block. Mentor officially killed the Knights a couple weeks ago, and the league appears strong from the top down.

Let us not forget that this franchise started as a true team that could’ve had success, and turned into hopefully the last attempt at Canadian FHL franchises.

With North Shore gone, the league has the tools necessary to head into next offseason with something that’s only happened once before in league history – full team season-to-season retention.

May we see the last of joke teams and franchises.

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