Boston is one of, if not the most logical NHL cities to showcase an American Hockey League game. Yet it never has.
This despite the presence of not only the Providence Bruins, but six other AHL franchises in New England, all located within a three-hour radius of the Hub.
Lockout or no lockout, but especially when a lockout is in effect, the Bruins could themselves and other parties nothing but favors if they allowed their farm team to use their mansion for one day. Or, better yet, if they hosted an AHL doubleheader.
Imagine the number of New England families who take regular or periodic advantage of the nearest minor-league franchise but are never able to nab a coveted seat at the Garden.
Just to create one visual, the P-Bruins and the Manchester Monarchs―the region’s two best draws in the league last season―are based between 60 and 75 minutes directly to the south and north, respectively, of the Garden.
A matchup between those clubs in the capital of Massachusetts ought to arouse dense interest from three states and amount to a largely black and gold, but still fairly bipartisan mass.
Based on last year’s average attendance, up to 13,500 seats could be sold to Rhode Island and New Hampshire fans alone with the rest going to “ordinary” Bruins buffs from the Bay State.
Regardless, if the Garden plugged a weekend afternoon vacancy by staging an all-New England AHL game for AHL prices, filling the better part of the 17,565-seat bowl ought not to be an issue. Not with families, youth teams and other individuals and groups craving live professional hockey action and an inside look at the nucleus of New England hockey arenas.
All of this is to say nothing of the bonus injection of interest the AHL and participating franchises would receive. That and the other benefits detailed above would likewise apply if two other regional entities were permitted to reap a silver lining from the otherwise unfortunate Bruins’ sabbatical.
The Boston Blades
Boston pioneered the United States as a suitable NHL country with the Bruins. It is now striving to do the same in the Canadian Women’s League, whose first and still only U.S.-based team is the Blades.
The nomadic Blades have already played at Hartford’s XL Center, the former home of the Whalers and current abode of the AHL’s Connecticut Whale. In addition, several Blades players and rivals have played before appreciable audiences in Olympic and Olympic tune-up tilts.
Why should those crowds be exclusive to international contests? Why shouldn’t these athletes occasionally step on an NHL pond in other years?
As it is with the AHL, a Blades game at the Garden would be an easy sell to many established and rising hockey enthusiasts. Girls’ (and boys’) teams of all age groups and open-minded fans in general can realistically pack more than half of the house for a game that is scheduled with enough precision.
The logical opponent, by the way, is the Montreal Stars. If the Bruins and Canadiens are not going to rekindle their rivalry for a half or full season, then give its female equivalent a chance to grow in the spotlight.
The Eastern Junior League is the best way for New Englanders to see future college players―e.g. those who will one day skate over the Spoked-B for the Beanpot or Hockey East championship―before they are recruited and/or enroll.
With seven teams in Massachusetts, plus one apiece in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, this, too, can appeal to a wide range of fans looking for a puck-centered day trip or a night in the capital.
There are six EJHL teams within an hour of Boston and another four within three hours or less, more than enough to dedicate an afternoon and evening to the league and a wide variety of traveling spectators with any interest.
In addition, for young players who might take in the action with a small group or with their team, an EJHL event at TD Garden could be a future selling point.