Still with no NHL to talk of, we turn to the minor leagues of hockey for a few best practices to open the year…
An Outdoor game, Outdoors: While the Winter Classic did go by the boards this week, the Federal Hockey League continued its work to keep hockey going outdoors by staging their January 2 game outdoors at Airman Pond at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa. the summer home of the New York-Penn League and the now winter home of the Williamsport Outlaws. The rink, which opened in November, is the defending FHL champions’ home ice, and pitted the Outlaws against All-Stars from the rest of the league, along with a multi-day youth hockey festival and other events. The guest of honor for the game, was none other than actor/skater Paul D’Amato, known to hockey fans as Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken from the original “Slapshot” movie, adding to the fun and festivities of a league which is still viewed as a notch below affiliated minor leagues in talent, but one not short on promotion.
An Outdoor Game, Indoors: It’s not that easy selling hockey on the heat of Las Vegas, especially when you play in the East Coast Hockey League. However, the Las Vegas Wranglers always try to find unique ways to gain coverage in a city big on transition but short on professional sports. So for their New Year’s Day game against the Ontario Reign, the Wranglers held the “first-ever” indoor Winter Classic, complete with alternative jerseys and their own trophy. The club also left the doors to the arena open to get at least a little breeze blowing through, and used ice making machine to make the bleary-eyed Vegas crowd feel some “snow” falling from the rafters. As far as the trophy for the winning team goes, it was topped with dollar signs flanking a special bobblehead of the team’s mascot, Duke, and it was wrapped in a chain with a padlock prominently displayed, in homage to the on-going lockout. It was a great way to bring some attention and a little extra flavor to the team as they celebrate their 10th year of hockey in Vegas, ample proof the organization has found ways to engage a very fickle fan base.
Phantoms Don The Tuxes: While there is no hockey in Philly, the Adirondack Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, found a new type of throwback uniform to end 2012 with. The Phantoms created a tuxedo jersey for their New Year’s Eve game against the Bridgeport (Ct.) Sound Tigers and turned the year-ending game into a New Year’s party complete with giveaways, free rentals, and noisemakers, but no champagne. The jerseys were also auctioned off for charity afterwards, a nice one-off in the world of competing “alternate” jerseys, many of which have little or no real connection to anything going on other than gaining some attention.
While minor league baseball regularly gets props for innovation, there is a lot to be had in minor league hockey as well, indoor, outdoor, or on special occasions for the fan still looking for some fun on the ice while the NHL still sits things out.