Sunday, January 18, 2009

ECHL = Best Value

Sometimes we have to step back and take a look to truly appreciate what we have.

I recently attended hockey games from all three main levels within a 9-day stretch. Tuesday, January 6 I watched the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre; then Friday January 9 I watched the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs take on the Lake Erie Monsters at Copps Coliseum; finally on Wednesday January 14 I returned to see our Cyclones destroy Wheeling at US Bank Arena.

It was a very cool hockey journey. Here is how it made me truly appreciate the Cyclones, the ECHL, and US Bank Arena:

Obvoiusly the NHL is the major league and the place all hockey players aspire to end up. It's awesome hockey, the best in the world. The players are the biggest, they are the best, the brightest, the fastest and the baddest. The new arenas are a marvel of construction, design, and crowd-handling. They have the best of everything, including all the best ice making systems including purified water, heated sub-floor, and two Zambonis.

On the down-side, I paid $100 US to sit so high up I felt like the view would have been better from the International Space Station. The seats were cramped so bad I could tell you the guy next to me's shoe size. The upper deck is so steep it feels like you could plummet to the bottom when you reach down to pick up your way-over-priced soda.

What's worst, from that level you don't truly get an appreciation for what you're seeing. They seem slow. The hits seem lethargic, and shots seem like something from juniors. The only hint as to the intensity of NHL hockey I noticed came from passing and the distinctive "thwack!" of a tape-to-tape pass being caught. To hear it so loud, from so far away, is the only thing that truly demonstrated the raw power of NHL hockey.

Want to sit down low and see what it really is like? Prepare to shell out $400 Canadian for a single game seat. You could be a Cyclones season ticket holder for that. Don't get me wrong, I still have total respect for the NHL but it is way out of my price range, even for an occasional treat.

Next, on to Hamilton. Copps Coliseum was built in 1985 and it very similar to US Bank Arena. It's the same architectural style, but upgrades commensurate with 10 years of evolution. We sat in the lower bowl, right by the player tunnel, for $25 Canadian each. That is a modest price and the hockey was very good. Definitely a better value in terms of the hockey you see for the price you pay than the NHL.

The skill is a step better than the ECHL but the biggest difference I see is the physical size of the players. These guys are absolute monsters. Guys like Latendresse and Desharnais are dwarfed by the guys around them. As you can imagine, the hits are harder and they are a step faster if for no other reason than their longer legs.

The main detractor I've seen in the AHL (and old IHL when affiliations became the norm) is the players seem to play a little easier, as if they don't want to risk an injury causing them to miss a call-up. Also the coaching staff is more bound by the orders of the parent club to play certain guys specified amounts of time and/or to play the systems of the parent club so the guys are familiar - even if the system is not the best fit for the squad. It leads to a somewhat diluted game, in my humble opinion.

You still can't argue that, technically, it is better hockey but I am talking about value.

Enter ECHL. I'll start with the negatives first. Yes, they players are very young and many are seeing the game professionally for the first time. They are smaller in size and have less game wisdom. Many have a lower skill level and are more prone to make mistakes. We've seen it out of the Cyclones from years past, and to a certain degree even this year.

HOWEVER, I still love the ECHL, the Cyclones, and the arena. First, the arena occasionally gets knocked for being "sterile" and not a "traditional hockey barn." Maybe, but it's where I saw my first professional hockey game (WHA Stingers, 1977) so I'll always have a place in my heart for it. But even if you don't share the nostalgia, what the building gives everyone is a quality, mostly modern if not modest, and overall very nice place for hockey. It's definitely no dump in the ghetto.

Now, the league. The players all over the league are in it for "the love of the game." Sounds corny, but it's true. League minimum salary is around $400 per week plus lodging and insurance; but as soon as the season is over they get their last check, get kicked out of their apartment, and get their health insurance cut off. There is no glory in long bus rides, being far away from home, and playing a 72+ game schedule while hoping beyond hope to get a shot at a call-up.

The players play with all their hearts, nearly every game, in the attempt to just get noticed and for the reason of pure pride. It's just so refreshing to me.

And all this for TEN BUCKS. You can watch a game from the third row for a measley THREE PERCENT of the cost of the same seat for an NHL game. Tell you you're only seeing 3% of the hockey and I'll call you a liar every time

In my estimation, it's at least 65% as good as NHL. I think more, actually, but I know I am biased. Even if you think it's 25$ as good, you're only paying 3% of the cost.

As I do the math, that's an awesome value, especially in tough economic times.



Anonymous joe said...

I think that your "cost/entertainment" valuation model is quite insightful.

I'm not going to see Sidney Crosby make some move that will fill me with awe at a Cyclones game. Or will I? Last season, David Desharnais had me shaking my head with some of his magic.

While many ECHL players lack many of the skills of their NHL brethren, some players in the ECHL have incredible skill sets or individual skills. Sam Ftorek from the 06-07 Cyclones may not have been much in the skating department, but that shot of his was something else. Players like Desharnaix, Daoust and Latandresse were all highly skilled. They merely lacked size. They may not have had an NHL patch on their uniform (yet), but each had a skill set which was NHL quality in most ways.

For $10 (actually $7.25 with all of my season ticket discounts and including the 4 'buddy passes', per ticket I am able to watch a very enjoyable and very high quality hockey product from Row 8.
That in and of itself provides a huge part of the value as your blog as made note of. Watching a game from 200+ feet away vs. being right on top of the action makes a huge difference.

Keep up the good work on your blog. I always enjoy it.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Cyclonesdiehard said...

Great post. I agree with you. I can't see shelling out 50 bucks to watch the Blue Jackets or 30 bucks to watch AHL hockey. We are truly spoiled to have quality hockey for 10 bucks! GO CYCLONES!

1:39 PM  

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