This past Tuesday, I was among the 11,082 attendees at the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic. Despite the slippery conditions on the ice and the slightly warm atmosphere at the 1st Mariner Arena, loads of excitement filled the air when the Capitals and Predators faced off.
The faces of the fans were enthralled when Alex Ovechkin laid a few hits to the boards, thunderous applause was heard as Caps goalie Michael Neurvirth sprawled around the net making saves and the crowd sang a rousing rendition of the old "Baltimore Clippers Fight Song" of the 60s and 70s.
Charm City has not housed a hockey franchise since the American Hockey League's (AHL) Bandits in 1997. A mix of poor management, a ridiculously home scheduled conjured by arena owners and a dump of an arena were the main cause for the team to move to Cincinnati (now known as the Rockford Icehogs).
Nevertheless, I have five good reasons why Baltimore should once again house minor-league hockey.
The city of Baltimore provides a long history of hockey. It housed the Orioles (yes, there was a hockey team called the Orioles) and the great AHL franchises of the Clippers, Skipjacks and Bandits.
Surprisingly though, there have been other cities that had a go-around of at least five hockey teams. Cleveland and Philadelphia, in particular, are standouts. For over a decade, Philly simultaneously housed the Flyers and its farm team, the Phantoms; Cleveland even had an NHL team for a couple years, sandwiched by numerous hockey teams.
So, what's stopping Baltimore from getting another shot?
Barry Trotz and Bruce Boudreau, respectable coaches of the Baltimore Hockey Classics representatives Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals, both cut their teeth in Baltimore. Boudreau played a few seasons as a Skipjacks defenseman in the mid-1980s; Trotz was the Skipjacks' final head coach until the team's departure in 1993.
Other coaches, such as Terry Murray, the LA Kings head coach, was the head honcho for the Jacks, and was previously a defenseman for the Clippers in the early 70s. Also, Doug Harvey and the great Jacques Plante spent time as Clippers before finishing off their Hall of Fame careers.
Although, the proposal is actually for minor-league hockey, Baltimore's proximity to other hockey cities could set off fierce regional rivalries. Pick a league and it could work:
National Hockey League*: Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey, Boston, Carolina, Columbus
American Hockey League: Hershey, Wilkes-Barres/Scranton, Norfolk, Lake Erie (Cleveland), Syracuse, Portland, Charlotte
ECHL: Cincinnati, Toledo, Reading, Trenton, Wheeling, South Carolina, Greenville
Federal Hockey League: Brooklyn, New Jersey
*Note: NHL would be a highly unlikely league for Baltimore to join, due to the Capitals owning the territorial rights (it stretches 50 miles; D.C and Baltimore are only 40 miles apart) and it's practically the only D.C. team Baltimore roots for.
It's very interesting how the AHL and the ECHL won't touch Baltimore as a viable hockey market, due to an obsolete arena and an NHL team down the road.
However, three AHL teams, the Rochester Americans, the Syracuse Crunch and the Toronto Marlies, along with the ECHL's future team, the San Francisco Bulls, are in similar situations.
Each of the four teams play (or will play) in arenas that are at least 60 years old; Baltimore's 1st Mariner pushing 50 years old. Also, they have a smaller seating capacity then Charm City's cavernous palace and Rochester, San Fran and Toronto play within a one-hour drive of an NHL city.
What makes the matter very frustrating is that San Francisco received the team less than 24 hours after the Baltimore Hockey Classic came to an end, and Syracuse, whose arena has a permanent stage like 1st Mariner, are on their fifth hockey team.
The funny thing about a big sporting event in Baltimore is that it casts doubt outside the area, yet when it's all over all the doubts are erased.
Baltimore was awarded the St. Louis Browns and re-christened them the Orioles in 1954, due to drawing a larger attendance in the 1949 Junior World Series than MLB did during the 1950 World Series, and a great tradition of minor league baseball.
The City of Baltimore was told, in the early 1950s, to sell 15,000 season tickets in seven weeks to get the Colts; the feat was accomplished in little over four weeks.
After losing their beloved Colts, Baltimore sold out an NFL exhibition game and housed both a USFL and a CFL team to championship glory.
In the 2009 World Football Challenge, Charm City was the only one out of six host cities to sell out its stadium capacity, despite Boston having an MLS franchise and Dallas hosting the event with a brand new stadium.
Did I mention the strong turnout for the Baltimore Grand Prix weeks ago?
Bottom Line: With famous hockey alumni, the hypocrisy of minor league acceptance, an expansion of rivalries, a long hockey history and great goals met and genuinely great fan support, Baltimore should be able to support hockey again. All I'm saying is give them another chance.