Hey, we’re a week late in getting around to this, but all of the questions we got are still relevant, so why not have a little Thanksgiving leftovers to start the week?
Today we’re tackling questions about SPHL and FHL attendance, hot starts around the SPHL, possible SPHL expansion, and a quick check-in on an upstart league in Michigan.
Let’s dive right in!
First off, I want to say what a thrill it is to have Western Kentucky’s great mascot as a reader of Bus League Hockey, truly an honor.
And to answer your question Big Red, it’s been a combination of everything. They finally took a loss over the holiday weekend, but sit in first-place at 11-1-0 with 46 goals and only 28 goals given up. Those 46 goals are tied for most in the league, and those 28 goals against are the third-fewest in the league.
As for individuals they have to thank, Justin Larson has been insane for the Bulls, he leads the SPHL with 16 points (7g 9a), and is doing it as both a scorer and distributor. And then in-goal is the story of the SPHL this year, Mavric Parks. Parks leads the SPHL with a 1.75 GAA and an absurd .944 Sv%. He’s 8-0 this year and given up just 14 goals in those eight games. So in the other four games this year, the Bulls backups have given up just as many goals in half the games. If there’s an SPHL Vezina trophy, he’s the early leader.
But if there is reason to worry for the Bulls, it would be the play of Parks. A 1.75 GAA and .944 Sv% is just not sustainable over the whole season, and over his 49 games in the SPHL, he’s been closer to a 3.00 and .916 marks, so if he regresses back to his averages, the Bulls will need their offense to keep clicking at the rate its been going to keep the hot start going.
We also need to mention Peoria here, because the Rivermen are the only team in the SPHL without a regulation loss (9-0-2) and sit just two points behind the Bulls with a game in-hand. They’ve used the same combination as the Bulls to get to this point, great scoring and goaltending. Between those two teams and Macon (22 points in 14 games), it should be a heck of a race for the regular season crown and first pick in the SPHL playoff challenge round.
I think first and foremost, the SPHL needs to make sure that its current 10-teams guarantee that they are coming back for next season before we talk expansion, but for the moment let’s assume that is happening and that the league wants to get to 12 teams and two divisions.
What makes Midwest expansion so hard for the SPHL is that because it’s such an established hockey region, and all the cities that would potentially fit the bill for an expansion city, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, all already have teams in higher leagues, or the smaller cities like Muskegon, Madison, and others have USHL teams, so there really aren’t a lot of open markets in the Midwest for the SPHL to target.
Which is tough, because I know they want to get more teams near Evansville, Peoria, and Quad City.
That said, there are still two cities that the league should be eyeing for Midwest expansion, but unfortunately I think it would only result in one team since they’re so close together.
Louisville and Lexington.
With the way both of those cities are growing, it honestly surprises me that at least one of those cities doesn’t have a team in the SPHL, but I get that there are the issues of rinks that fit the SPHL mold, and really just having ice in general. If you made me pick between the two, I’d love to see a team in Lexington, because that would be a great rivalry right up the road from Knoxville, and straight over from Evansville. But it still doesn’t really solve the problem of being much closer to Quad City and Peoria, but there really aren’t many other Midwest options at the moment.
Another that could fit the SPHL mold, but doesn’t have a good facility and has been burnt by so many leagues in the past is Dayton. If Dayton had a nice rink for hockey and a reputable league I think it would do well, but the arena issue is so big that I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Looking at the current attendance averages for the SPHL, there are a couple of teams averaging below 2K per game. Is it too early to hit the panic button?
On a related note, thoughts on the FHL attendances so far?
— LILWOOLEY (@theLILWOOLEY) November 19, 2018
LILWOOLEY is of course talking about the Macon Mayhem, who are bringing in 1,725 per night through seven home games, and Fayetteville, who are next at 1,925 a night.
I don’t think it’s time to panic yet, because with most cities that have hockey, attendance is usually on the light side during football season (especially on Friday nights when high school teams play), but it is something that’s worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Of those two, Fayetteville is most concerning, because they were near 3,000 a night last year, so to lose almost 1,000 fans a night through six games does raise questions. But Macon has always been kind of low for the SPHL and keeps on playing. Plus, with the holidays coming up, that usually means fun nights like Teddy Bear Toss, which brings in big crowds. But if things don’t turn around after the start of the new year, then yeah, maybe these teams do reach for the panic button.
As for the second part of your question, I think the FHL has to be dancing in the offices with how attendance has been so far this year. Elmira is a huge success with 3,285 a night, including the two largest crowds in FHL history on opening weekend. Even their lowest crowd this season was over 2,400 people. Carolina is still proving to be a great hockey market with 2,328 a night, up over 100 fans a night compared to last year, and then there’s Watertown, who is at nearly 1,100 a night, which if that holds all season, would be their best attendance ever in Watertown by more than 300 fans a night.
Danville and PH have started a little slow at 892 and 874 a game, but much like the SPHL teams, the big theme nights and holidays are coming, so I expect them both to rebound a bit.
Mentor is the only one off to kind of a rough start at 593 a night through four home games, but they’ve won 3 of 4, including two against first-place Carolina, and excitement seems to be building around the team. They have a pair of home games this weekend against Watertown, so it will be interesting to see if the bring in good crowds for those two nights.
And really, in the FHL if your worst team is doing 593 a night, it’s a banner year. In past years the worst team in the league attendance wise did less than 200 a night last year in North Shore and maybe 400 a night in Cornwall, 322 in 2016-17 in St. Clair Shores, 246 in Brewster in 2015-16, 135 a night in Steel City in 2014-15, 660 a night in Danville in the 4-team year of 2013-14, 569 in Danville in another 4-team year of 2012-13, five teams who drew less than 593 a night in 2011-12 including a league-low 394 in Akwesasne, and 215 a night in Rome during the FHL’s first year in 2010-11.
But overall, it’s a great year so far for the FHL at the gate, and if Mentor can bump that number up to around 700+ or so, then you could be talking about the best year in FHL history, both at the gate and on the ice.
Is the IHL going to ever play a game?
— MD (@MD_FLINTown) November 20, 2018
MD_FLINTown is of course talking about the Interstate Hockey League, which we covered quite a bit over the summer. For those who don’t know, the IHL was hoping to be a full-contact adult league in the metro-Detroit/Flint areas, almost like a feeder to the FHL for when injuries happen or players get called up.
The league had hopes of playing with six teams this year, but a number of things came up during the summer, and rather than rush into a season with not enough players and not enough teams, they wisely held off on starting until next year, potentially avoiding a USACHL-like start to the league.
For now, the league says it has six teams set for next year, and the next step is getting players and other interest in the league so it can for sure take the ice. We’ll see how all that goes with an extra year of planning to get things in place, but for now, I would say yes, they are going to play, but you’re going to have to wait until next fall for it.