OPINION: The disaster in Battle Creek is entirely the FPHL’s fault

The Federal Prospects Hockey League made a lot of good decisions this off-season. Some of which include putting the games on YouTube for free, and getting great expansion additions in Columbus and Danbury.

Unfortunately, the league made one whopper of a bad decision that is overshadowing all that good, adding the Battle Creek Rumble Bees in a short-sighted decision to get to 10 teams. It’s the talk of the league, and even those who don’t typically follow the FPHL are paying attention, for all the wrong reasons.

Following last night’s 7-2 defeat to the Port Huron Prowlers, the Bees are now 0-20-0-0, 20 straight regulation losses, and only two of which have even been close. They’ve already shattered the FPHL record for most consecutive losses, and are closing in on minor league hockey’s longest losing streak (22 games by the Wichita Thunder in the CHL) and longest winless streak (31 games by the Windsor Ryancretes who went 0-25-6 in the 1948-49 in the original IHL).

Here’s a crazy stat: The Steel City Warriors/SWPA Magic, who went 3-45-1, gave up an average of 7.58 goals per game, while scoring just 2.85 for a difference of 4.73 goals per game. Battle Creek is giving up 7.05 goals per game and scoring 1.6 goals per game for a difference of 5.45 goals per game. Through 20 games the Bees are worse than the team considered to be the worst in FPHL history. And through all this they’re averaging 345 fans per game, by far worst in the league. It’s almost impossible for things to have gone any worse than they have so far in Battle Creek.

And it’s all the FPHL’s fault, for a number of reasons.

Forewarning, this next part is going to read as mean about the Delaware Thunder, and we don’t intend it to be, because despite the 3-13-0-0 record, they’ve been competitive and seem to have a passionate fan base, and could become a solid FPHL franchise if they can fix one thing that should have been addressed when they were considered for expansion.

But the debacle in Battle Creek starts with the addition of Delaware. Again, the Thunder have been competitive and appear to have the makings of strong group of fans…but when your arena holds only 675 people, you probably shouldn’t be allowed in the league until you can get that to at least 1,000. There needs to be some standard for expansion teams, and again, no offense, but room for 675 fans shouldn’t be it. Adding a team with a rec rink that has such a low capacity reflects badly on the league, and even worse, and this is no fault of Delaware’s that they were allowed into the league, because we’re happy that hockey fans in Delaware finally have team, but they were the ninth team, and pretty much forced the league’s hand on putting out a 10th team to even out schedules and divisions.

By being forced to add a 10th team to even out schedules, that 10th team, regardless of where they put it, was to be doomed from the start. While Delaware was added in May, giving them a little over five months to do everything, still not an easy task, Battle Creek got roughly 90 days to try and do the same thing. Ask Mentor how that went last season. And even worse than having roughly three months to try and put an entire franchise together, the team did not get ANY help in the form of an expansion draft or some sort of priority free agents.

Let’s go back to Delaware, who made 10 selections in that expansion draft. Yes, they’re just 3-13, but their average game is roughly a 5-3 defeat (4.81 goals against, 3.13 goals scored for a difference of 1.68 goals per game), which is totally respectable, and they’re making teams earn their wins, and are even just a bounce or two away most nights from pulling out a win or at least sending it to overtime.

Now, here’s the list of players Delaware got in the expansion draft:

  • Dmytro Babenko, Forward
  • Ray Boudiette, F/D
  • Joe Cangelosi, F/D
  • Brandon Contratto, F/D
  • Yan Dumontier, Defense
  • Eric Masters, Forward
  • Josh Newberg, F/D
  • Alex Basey, Defense
  • Anton Lennartsson, Forward
  • Ryan Marker, Foward

Ryan Marker is the huge addition, he is third in the league in points with 34 in 16 games. Brandon Contratto has 25 points in 14 games. While nobody else on the team has more than 12 points, those two players alone are legit FPHL players, with Marker a legit star in the league, and score enough to keep the team in games, and even win a few so far.

Battle Creek’s leading scorers have nine points. And no offense to Ryan Alves or Nathan Margets, both of whom are solid role players in the Fed, but they’re not stars and expecting them to carry the load offensively is usually going to end with the results they have so far.

But even worse than the team being awful on the ice and in the stands because of the FPHL’s decisions, is they have likely torpedoed what should be a great FPHL market. Battle Creek is a town of over 50,000 people, has good corporate businesses in town that could sponsor a team, and a big arena with around 5,000 seats that if they added ice, would be a great Fed arena. It has everything the league should want when looking at a potential expansion team in the north.

Instead, they got a rushed team that had no time to market, bring in sponsors, sell tickets, and no help to build a competitive team. The team will finish out this season, no doubt in my mind about that, but what happens beyond this season is completely up in the air. There’s talk that they could move to the 5,000-seat Kellogg Arena, which would certainly be a more professional and better setup than their current arena, but who is going to come to games? How do you at all bring in new fans or businesses, or even retain current ones, when you have a team that is 0-20 and has two non-blowouts to their name, even if you get a new arena?

Or what happens if the team folds, and a couple years down the line Kellogg adds ice and wants a team? All people in town will remember is how disastrous the first attempt was, and re-attempting to go back into a market usually doesn’t work out well, with Carolina being one of the few exceptions.

At this point, you have to give credit to Adam Stio and the staff in Battle Creek, they’re doing all they can to try and turn around what is basically a hopeless situation. They’re constantly trying new things, and bringing in new players to try and make things work. And we really hope they can do it, but the odds are so much against them that you can’t help but feel bad for them, the players, and the fans they do have.

And none of it is that staff, or the player’s faults. They should have never been in the position to begin with, and probably should’t have been added to the league until the 2020-21 season. But when the FPHL decided that adding more teams was their biggest priority this off-season, this is what happens.

So at a time when the FPHL is growing and making a lot of good decisions that should have a positive impact on the league’s long-term outlook, it’s impossible to give them a pass on this Battle Creek situation that they made.

It was short-sighted, neglectful, and worst of all, could end up crushing any hopes they had for a successful franchise in what should be a prime market for the league.

2 thoughts on “OPINION: The disaster in Battle Creek is entirely the FPHL’s fault

  1. Battle Creek (small rec rink, no time to organize) and Delaware (tiny rec rink, tiny market) were mistakes. Bloomington is a step in the right direction, even though I’m not convinced they’ll support a FPHL team, but the league will continue to have a joke reputation until it stops rushing franchises and putting them in dubious markets and gets rid of the rec rinks. Until they set standards for ownership and facilities (the only decent arenas this season are in Carolina, Columbus, Danville and Elmira).

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    1. I assumed Delaware was a Delmarva test to see if using Salisbury Arena and getting ice there was viable. Considering the area now and they percentage of capacity, they might prove it worthwhile.

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