The Abbotsford Heat find themselves worrying about the Vancouver Canucks affiliate Utica Comets.
They don’t need to concern themselves with a 3–2 decision to the lowly Comets on Friday night. Even after the loss, the Heat have won eight of their last ten games and sit in first overall in the AHL standings. The Comets, for their part, picked up just their fifth win of the year, and would not have done so without some serious heroics on the part of their goaltender. Under siege most of the night — including a third period that saw the Heat outshoot the Comets 13–2 — Joe Cannata made 35 saves for unanimous first star honours.
No, the Heat this season haven’t had to wring hands as they’ve done in the past about the number of pucks hitting the backs of the net. What they have worried about, though, is the ever-dwindling number of bums in seats at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre.
More after the jump.
Sadly, the story today isn’t Cannata standing on his head in front of a raft of Canucks brass and scouts. Nor is it Heat winger Michael Ferland’s second Gordie Howe hat trick of the season. It’s not even the fact that Kirk McLean signing pre-game autographs couldn’t bring a few more people into the building. Nope.
The story is that the decline in Canucks popularity affects more than just the numbers downtown. Ever since the Game Seven Loss (TM) in 2011, cracks have been growing in the vaunted Rogers Arena sellout streak.
In the past five seasons, home dates against Canucks farm teams — the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves — were dates that brought full houses. Sure, most of the 8,000 people in the house wore Canucks colours and made it a road game of sorts for the home team. But damn it, there were people in the building. That meant concession sales, parking dollars, and the potential for ancillary revenue in the area. Who knows, maybe a few people would even — gasp — buy tickets to another game elsewhere on the schedule.
Yesterday, with the Canucks’ new blue & green Comets affiliate in town, the official attendance was 4,260. In truth, and in keeping with the exaggerated numbers put out by the team, the place was clearly under half full. That’s on a night when both the Giants and Canucks are on the road, and when 1994 NHL playoff hero Kirk McLean was in the house to sign autographs as part of the Legends of Hockey series.
Between political excuse making and poor marketing, the Heat have languished near the bottom of the AHL attendance rankings since their inception. And this year, despite leading the league and playing a much tougher, more entertaining brand of hockey, they sit squarely in the basement. Last place. The worst attendance in the AHL.
Just 2,421 is the average official box office. Anyone who’s been at the AESC knows that number is highly inflated. When your biggest-selling opposition leaves half the building empty, you won’t see those numbers improve anytime soon.