GUEST COLUMN: IHL Commissioner Drake MacKenzie wonders, Is Flint Hockey Dead?

We’ve been laid up sick in bed since Sunday, and luckily a couple people have sent over articles they wanted to share. So first up, IHL Commissioner Drake MacKenzie on the state of Flint, Michigan’s hockey scene.


I can’t believe I am thinking this, much less typing it and much, much less releasing this article.

Is Flint on the way out as a hockey city?

I have said this before aloud, people quickly counter with this argument, “We have the Firebirds, they recently renovated the arena, Things couldn’t be better!”

Well try (at the time of this writing) an 8-34-2 record, or a 72-113-19 record all-time, the 3rd worst attendance in the Ontario League and perhaps ownership as bad as some we have seen in the Federal League. Before them the Warriors of the NAHL where lucky to bring in 1,000 a night, the last incarnation of the Flint Generals died a slow agonizing death of attendance drain since 2004-2005.

“Okay!” You say. “But every team struggles, and bad things can happen, we will be okay!”

Maybe not.

I recently traveled to Port Huron for a Federal League game and my friend and I parked three hours before the doors opened and visited some local scenes within walking distance, and though I have been to Port Huron before, I still marveled at the fact of how nice the area around the arena was. Elmira likewise is in a beautiful area, most arenas are built right downtown with plentiful access to local bars and shops for fans.

Not Flint, turning right out of Dort Federal Event Center puts you in some nasty areas, featuring Dort Highway and its numerous gentlemen’s clubs and the burnt out remnants of an apartment complex. There is ONE bar within sight of Dort and walking there isn’t recommended. To cap it off in front of Dort is a half closed down strip mall, with another closed building in front of it, beautiful.

Okay, so Rolf Nilsson invested over 4 million dollars into Dort, it is absolutely stunning on the inside. But why can’t ANYBODY put any money into the outside of the arena, how many times have we had draft picks refuse to show up?

Imagine being a parent of a 16-year-old, and you drive to the rink and you see everything surrounding the building, you hear of the water crisis and you hear of the crime, why would anybody in their right mind want their kid to go there?

In the bowels of Dort Federal Arena is the saddest token of all, the slow, unnoticed, agonizing death of the once powerhouse youth and high school hockey, during my high school days we had. Kearsley, Brandon, Goodrich, Grand Blanc, Lapeer East, Lapeer West, Oxford, Davison, Lake Fenton, Fenton, Linden, Flushing, Swartz Creek, Clio, Lakeville, Carman Ainsworth, Powers and Durand (sorry if I missed a few).

Today, we have Lapeer (They merged high schools in 2014), Davison, Grand Blanc, SCF (A group of Northern Flint schools), Alliance (Goodrich, Lakeville and the rest of the Lapeer County Schools), Fenton/Linden and Powers.

Seven High School teams, from a height of 18 schools. This season KBH (Kearsley, Brandon and Holly) folded, the fact that Kearsley was merged with other schools to ice a team was bad enough, but to see the once powerhouse program FOLD was insanity, yet nobody in Flint seemed to notice. Lapeer has dressed mostly brand new skaters and 2 goalies who have never played hockey in their life (on a side note, Lapeer may have the most underrated coach in the state, he is given nothing and has done a fantastic job building something) and the rest of talent has fallen off the wayside and there is no “travel” teams for these players to go to, players are either not playing or going to Detroit to play.

The Polar Palace in Lapeer closes most Saturday Afternoons, Iceland is down to 1 sheet of ice, when once it had 3.5 sheets and Crystal Fieldhouse, (well the less said about them the better) and NOBODY in Flint seems to be worried about this.

“There is no money here, that’s why nothing gets fixed”

There’s money everywhere, Warroad, Minnesota doesn’t pay for ice for any of there players, a town of 2,000 people, plays in a 3,000-seat arena and they pack it in, for high school. We can do emulate that, and we better damn well do it before it is too late.

Think of the beauty of what could be in Flint, developed correctly, the Flint area could be a hockey powerhouse, like nothing that’s been seen, even during flints heyday. Imagine this, all these Flint High Schools reforming the old Flint Metro Division and really marketing it like schools do with football, a Goodrich/Brandon game, Powers vs literally anybody (who doesn’t hate Powers) Davison/Lapeer or Fenton/Linden.

Then imagine having most if not all of those games at Dort or its annex arena, think of the free marketing for the Firebirds, think of all the Flint kids available for the Firebirds, think about the sense of community that could be developed between the Firebirds and its areas high schools.

Flint hockey isn’t dead, its sitting on a gold mine, buried under 40 million tons of shit, but what Flint could be with some help, could make Flint truly a hockeytown.

We sit in a scary spot, ask Dayton. In 2015 they not only lost there team, they lost their building. We cannot let that happen in Flint.

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