Minor League Hockey
By Mason Hermann aka Antropov14
Usually everyone who follows hockey has a favorite NHL team and worships it to some degree or another, whether it be watching the games, or naming your pets after your favorite players. Though NHL is seen as the face of hockey, it always intrigues me how loyally people follow minor leagues and hometown teams. I know that there is nothing better than stopping in somewhere for a hockey game and observing the sense of ‘secluded’ community that exists, and that one die-hard fan that sits in the nosebleeds and hollers at the top of his lungs like there’s no tomorrow. To me it almost seems that because of the lack of media these teams receive, it just makes the experience greater. This is the story of my first hand encounter with AHL hockey and the great passion to the game it delivered.
Firstly there are a few main differences from AHL and NHL hockey. The play is definitely more intense in AHL, the teams care more about their fans, and you can purchase tickets at the box office a few minutes before the game (as I did when I saw my only AHL game so far in Chicago). Right off the bat I could tell the difference walking into the arena: it was cozy, basic, but packed with stuff for the fans. How about an adopt a dog program right when you walk in the main lobby. There was nothing like walking through a crowd of people… and animals trying to get to your seats. Further more, they even took the dogs out on the ice during intermissions to showcase them, and someone adopted one right at the game! Talk about great fan interaction!
After heading up to the empty upper level, I realized who the super fan was going to be. A man in his sixties had a single seat row (yes they had a single seat for a row), right on the front of the upper level, which in total had about 300 people in it, and he was decked out in his Chicago Wolves colors and content watching the game by himself. That is what I thought of course. About part way through second period, the few people sitting around him all started talking like they were best buddies, and one woman even pulled out a Rubbermaid container of banana bread and started passing around the slices to the little group. I realized how awesome the sense of commitment to the team was, and the great community this created for this man who appeared to be a stand alone guy.
So as we took our seats, upon opening remarks, I realized that it was an honorable mentions night. Sure enough, the prior GM of the Chicago Wolves walks out on to the ice for a ceremonial banner rising, with a long tribute video and great thank you speech to the fans. Even more so, to my surprise, this man turned out to be the current GM of the WINNIPEG JETS! That’s right, the man who was in charge of my favorite player’s (Antropov) contract was in the same building that I was! I had to talk to him…(which I will explain later).
After the ceremony wrapped up, the arena crew hauled out this cardboard cut-out arch of a Wolf face (literally) and fired up a solid 4 minute fireworks show that was too dangerous even if it was outside! The amount of effort they put in for the fans was unbelievable! I had also gone to a Chicago Blackhawks game while in town and honestly, I had way more fun at the AHL game. The play was intense with huge hits, the value for your money had to be a 1000% better and the overall experience was great. Even after the game, when the Wolves won, the PLAYERS threw t-shirts to the crowd from the ice! What a neat touch. If I ever live in an AHL hockey town, I will definitely buy some season tickets!
Finally, I must explain the GM encounter. While walking back to my seats for the third period, I took a walk by the makeshift broadcast booth (located on a platform built over some upper level seats, accessed by a quality aluminum ladder), I saw the GM having an interview with the broadcasters. I waited until he was done, and I was able to get a nice picture with him and I was able to persuade him to sign Antropov to a 5 year $50 Million dollar deal to be announced soon… (JK, I wish). We had a brief chat, told him I was a fan of the Jets and then he proceeded to walk the same way we did back to our seats. Just like that. He had no entourage, no security, just community. The sense of community that arena, its fans and team made was outstanding. When you have the sense that everyone is together, feeling the same closeness, it makes whatever you are doing so much more enjoyable. Though I have only been to this one AHL game, I will definitely go again. The same goes for small town hockey. It is unbelievable what you will discover if you just give it a chance… you never know… your favorite player probably got his start from one of those hundreds of teams, and for a meaningful encounter, there is no better place to go and look for him or her.
HERE IS MY PERSONAL VIDEO OF THE FIREWORKS SHOW AT THE GAME!
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