Back in July when the FHL schedule was released, one thing that caught everyone’s attention was a pair of neutral site games scheduled for February 1 and March 16 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Those games caught everyone’s eye because it was no secret that the FHL was eyeing Battle Creek as a potential expansion market, and wanted to showcase the game, and an upgraded arena, to the fans in Battle Creek before potentially announcing a team there during the 2019 off-season. And the neutral site games were a chance to see two regional teams that would be rivals to the Battle Creek team, as well as the Carolina Thunderbirds.
Well, very quietly, and without ever officially announcing it or posting about it on the FHL site or social media pages, the neutral site games were cancelled and moved back to the team’s regular arenas.
In case you didn’t notice, today is February 1, and the Danville Dashers, who were set to “host” the Carolina Thunderbirds in Battle Creek, have been posting on their social media pages about tonight’s game…but advertising for it in Palmer Arena.
So what the heck happened?
We at Bus League Hockey have actually known they were cancelled for a couple of months now, and had it confirmed Friday morning by Carolina GM Scott Brand, who confirmed the original rumors we had heard: That the ownership group in Battle Creek was dealing with some health issues, and that a proper management group was not in place.
As Brand put it, ” So (there was) no way to be successful.”
As a result, tonight’s game is back in Danville, and the March 16 game will be played at McMorran Place in Port Huron, getting each of those two teams up to 28 official home games for the season.
Prior to this season, the FHL hosted a neutral site game in Battle Creek between the St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints and the Berlin River Drivers. It was…uhhh lightly attended, to say the least. With about 150 people in the stands due to a blizzard hitting the area, and a major youth hockey tournament in the area on the same day, as well as little to no planning or advertising.
Now, the cancelling of neutral site games isn’t really the big news, it’s that what was once viewed as a sure-fire addition to the FHL is no longer happening. At least during the 2019 off-season.
With the health issues and no strong management in place, there is no chance for the potential expansion team and rink to be ready in time for next season, so they are officially out of the expansion market, at least for 2019. We have heard that there is still a chance for 2020, but nothing is set in stone.
And really, it’s a bummer for everyone involved. For the folks in Battle Creek that wanted to put a team in town, they are absolutely making the right call in focusing on health issues rather than trying to put together a hockey team while dealing with that, and we certainly hope that everything turns out OK for them. For fans in the area and the FHL, it’s a massive bummer because as we mentioned earlier, Battle Creek seemed like a an addition that was 100 percent happening once the arena made the necessary upgrades, and suddenly that is out the window, or on hiatus until at least 2020.
It also leaves questions about what other northern markets there might be for potential expansion this off-season, and honestly, in our research and looking at the map, there aren’t a ton that immediately jump out to us as obvious candidates like we have in the south.
So Danville and Port Huron each get an extra home game, but the FHL loses what was once the most obvious and sure-thing for the next expansion team.