JAKE’S TAKE: Is Marshall ready for a junior league hockey team?

MARSHALL – Earlier this month, it was decided that St. Cloud would be the new home of the North American Hockey League’s Blizzard franchise following rink-maintenance issues arising at the team’s previous home of Larson Ice Center in Brookings, South Dakota.

Prior to the owners settling on St. Cloud as their new home, two other sites were in the running for the franchise. One being East Grand Forks, and the other, as you may have already guessed, was Marshall.

The final decision to pick St. Cloud came down to proximity to other junior hockey franchises owned by the Cavanatis in the lower tiered North American Tier III Hockey League in Alexandria (Blizzard) and Willmar (Warhawks), according to owner Chris Cavanati in a recent Grand Forks Herald article by Mick Hatten.

“We looked at Marshall because they just built a beautiful new rink and East Grand Forks was looking to bring in a junior team,” Chris Canavati said in the interview. “We looked at St. Cloud due to its proximity to Alexandria and Willmar.”

To my knowledge, this is the first time that Marshall has been considered for a junior hockey franchise and lends credence to the famous line in the movie ‘Field of Dreams’, “If you build it they will come.”

The question that I ask is, if they had moved here, would there have been enough fan interest to financially support the new team?

While I would hope that the answer is yes, I have a hard time believing that the attendance issues that plagued the team in Brookings would be resolved here in Marshall due to the similarities of the two cities.

For one, neither of the two are especially big in terms of population. In fact, Brookings is quite a bit larger with approximately 24,000 people to Marshall’s roughly 14,000. Of the 24,000 people in Brookings, an average of only 464 showed up for Blizzard games last season.

To put that into perspective, the team with the largest average attendance during the 2018-2019 season was the Shreveport (L.A.) Mudbugs, who drew an average of 2,830 fans to their games.

Another issue that would arise is that Marshall, like Brookings, is a college-town that would require the franchise to seek out potential fans in SMSU students. The fact that college students are already on a limited budget and may not care about the sport in general would make it difficult to entice the necessary amount needed to make it a viable business.

Yes, St. Cloud is also a college-town, but the difference is that the St. Cloud area already has a built-in legion of hockey fans who can’t get enough of the sport with the men’s and women’s St. Cloud State University hockey teams drawing huge crowds for each and every home game.

In retrospect, perhaps the biggest advantage that Marshall had over the other two sites was its venue, the Red Baron Arena. Not only is it a top of the line high school hockey arena, it looks the part of a junior and even college arena inside and out.

One day in the near future I hope that the beautiful arena will be home to a junior hockey team, but looking back now, it was probably best for both parties that the Blizzard ownership went a different route in moving to St. Cloud.


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