By: Joey Battaino
If you're entwined in the hockey world or you are even a casual fan of the NHL, you are probably aware that this year is a contract year in the NHL's collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association. It's already August and the two sides seem as far apart as ever. Especially after today when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL owners will lockout the players if a new CBA is not agreed to by September 15th.
Now that you're up to speed, lets talk hockey in the city of Flint, MI. The NAHL's Michigan Warriors are heading into their 3rd season of existence. They have made the playoffs in each of their first two seasons, including a birth in the 2011 National Championship game of the Robertson Cup Tournament. The problem in Flint has never been a lack of on-ice talent. The problems in Flint have come from poor marketing execution and a mostly apathetic target market dealing with the hardships of the current economic depression.
In 2004, the NHL lost a full season to a work stoppage. At that time, the "AA" United Hockey League was in Flint and the Generals were in their 12th season as the current Generals. The Generals went 33-33-14 and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons after winning the Colonial Cup in 1999-00. However, that season the friendly confines of Perani Arena hosted an average of 3,099 people per night in the 4,021 seat arena. The rink was alive. Whether it was cheering a goal from local hero Bobby Reynolds or watching fiery youngster John DiPace put up 229 penalty minutes, the fans were back and they came out in droves to watch the Generals not make the playoffs. They did because they didn't have their beloved Detroit Red Wings to cheer on. The Joe was silent for all 82 games of the NHL regular season and the UHL and other minor pro leagues were loving it. They were making NHL dollars on a sub-par but entertaining product.
I feel the that a lockout could work in the favor of the Michigan Warriors the same way. As much as it pains me to admit it, the Warriors take a distant back seat to High School Football and Basketball in the city of Flint. However, without the convenience of seeing the game of hockey by turning on your television, the Warriors could cash in on hockey fans starving just to feel the chill of the ice in the air or the sound of a stick slapping the puck. Especially since the Warriors ticket prices are at an all-time low. For just $7 you can enjoy the stars of tomorrow in your hometown. That means a family of four can get in for under $30. That's a down, out-right steal.
No one is debating that the caliber of the NAHL is as good as the UHL or the reincarnation of the IHL. You can't. It's apples and oranges. At this point, it's also hard to explain the reasoning of why Flint hockey fans have stayed away for so long. But when it comes down to it, Flint is still a hockey town and believe it or not, I think an NHL lockout could do wonders for the future of hockey in Flint, MI.