With all 10 teams in action on opening weekend, the Federal Prospects Hockey League kicked off its 10th season in style, with tons of close games, the league’s best rivalry getting heated (again), and all four expansion teams having something to smile about, even if the results on the ice weren’t what they wanted.
But it wasn’t all a bed of roses, with arena issues, some issues with the new YouTube streams, and then one team who looks like it might be a disaster this season.
Let’s dive on in with what stood out to us on the opening weekend of games.
The YouTube streams are a hit, even with some hiccups
Even though the announcement came roughly one week before the season started, the biggest thing to happen this off-season was the league switching away from pay-per-view streams to free streams run by the individual teams on YouTube.
One weekend in, it seems to be really popular among fans. First off, again, it’s free and you can’t complain about that. And everyone from our writers, to fans, and even people who had never seen the league before had mostly positive things to say about the streams. Yes, the graphics on some were better than others, or the sound was better, but again, it was 100% free, and teams are still figuring things out with this.
The biggest complaints from games seemed to be that in Battle Creek and Elmira, the camera was all over the place on zooms, or didn’t show everything after the whistle (in Elmira’s case, you are watching the in-arena feed that goes to their Jumbotron so that’s why you miss stuff there, this feed isn’t made for YouTube specifically), and then the usual complaints that the announcer of the home team who was broadcasting the game was a homer and hated their team.
Nothing you can do about that last one, but the other stuff, the wild zooming, or maybe missing stuff after whistle, that is stuff that will hopefully get worked out in the near-future. Again, it’s free, and the league basically decided on this format with a week before the season started, so teams weren’t exactly put in the best spot on this, but the exposure teams and players seem to be getting from this switch is so far well worth it, and only going to get better as streams improve.
It seems like almost every team will be competitive this year
When a league adds four teams in one off-season, there are certainly going to be questions about the quality of play, and how good those teams are going to be, especially coming off a season in which Carolina made a very strong case as the greatest Fed team of all-time, and appears to be nearly as good to start this season.
Well, this weekend showed that all but one team (so far) should be able to put up a fight on the ice. Let’s start in Delaware, where the host Thunder dropped a 5-2 decision on opening night to the expansion Columbus River Dragons, then rebounded with an 8-2 thumping of their expansion counterparts the next night. Elsewhere, Danbury fought hard in a pair of overtime losses to Port Huron, who made the playoffs last season, not a bad showing for an expansion team. Then Carolina and Elmira skated to a pair of tough, tough 2-0 wins for the defending champions, while Mentor and Watertown split a pair on the Wolves home ice. Really a very good weekend of hockey in four of the five weekend matchups.
Which brings us to Battle Creek. Before we get too far into this, please try to remember that the Rumble Bees were basically up against it from Day 1. Being announced super late in the summer and giving them MAYBE 3 months to put together a hockey staff, marketing plan, and roster is nearly impossible. And when you’re starting that late, most quality players have been scooped up by other teams, so getting handled on home ice to the tune of 7-1 and 6-3 by what was a BAD Danville team last year does not inspire a lot of hope that this will be a good team. It’s a long season, and they’ll certainly get more comfortable and confident as the season goes on, but it could be a long season in Battle Creek.
Questions about the long-term viability of Delaware and Battle Creek
We said it back when both teams were announced, but the rinks they were playing in raised a lot of questions about how they were going to make this thing work.
Let’s start with Delaware, which seems to have a strong appetite for hockey, and the state’s first pro team brought fans out in the form of a sold out crowd on Friday night. Which is awesome, and hats off to the staff there for getting that done, days in advance of the game no less. But when your sellout crowd is 632 (official box score attendance), it really creates a ton of questions. One of the first things we asked when this team was added was if they had plans to expand the rink. Team officials told us it would reach 750 for this season, and then sources within the league said that the rink could reach up to 2,000 in the future if needed. After two games, they’re averaging a solid 592 per game, not even close to the worst we’ve seen in the Fed, and you really hope the team can keep that up, and then parlay that interest into adding more seats for future seasons, because with only 632 seats available, at roughly $16 a ticket, it just seems odd to be capped on ticket sales at such a low number, and would be tough to keep it going long-term without more seats.
In Battle Creek they listed nearly 700 fans coming out to their home opener, a pretty dang strong number considering what we had discussed in the previous section, but the next night it dipped to a reported 453. Again, they were up against it from Day 1, and you combine that with what might be a really bad team, a rink that might seat 1,100 and teams nearby in Kalamazoo, and it is easy to see how doubt can creep into your mind about making it work. Like Delaware, we’ve heard talk that The Rink in Battle Creek could be expanded to add more seats, or if demand is there, that they could move to the nearly 5,000-seat Kellogg Arena.
It was two head-scratching additions to the league due to those rink issues, especially after Danbury averaged nearly 1,200 over its two home games, so this is something to definitely keep an eye on. But if we were betting people, it seems like Delaware (right now) has the more viable path to long-term stability due to more demand and interest in their team at the moment.
Having 10 teams just feels like a big deal
With 10 teams and up to five games every night, the Fed finally feels like it has a lot going on. No offense to season’s past, but when you only have six teams (or less in some years), it’s hard to get excited about a Friday night where there might be 1-2 games, or it’s 9:30 and all the games are over.
It was a lot of fun this weekend to look at five box scores, see the scores constantly changing, check in on all the different fan bases to see their reaction in real time. And then with more teams on the league website, it’s fun to pour over the league-wide stats and compare players, teams, and whatever else. And then having readers reach out to us asking for updates on games, or sharing their opinion on things, it seems like more teams has really helped grow the league in a lot of ways to start the season.
It’s all part of a making it feel like a big-time league, and having 10 teams really makes it feel like a bigger league that takes on more importance.