Damn it, it was supposed to be a fine week of hockey previews, accented by my post Olympic glow. But even the warm feeling from last Sunday isn’t enough to overcome the extinguishment of a hockey club.
If you lived through the nineties in Canada, you became accustomed to the death throes of a club battling a small fan base, a league-wide policy against profit-sharing, and a forbidding exchange rate with the greenback with which your players demanded payment.
It began as rumours, denial, rage, picket lines, savage bitterness at the profiteering mentality of the owners, until the inevitable, point-of-no-return was reached. Then it became a period of reflective mourning.
So thank you very much, Mr. Bettman. Hey, how did Atlanta and Pheonix work out?
But in the case of the Canberra Knights, we’re still not sure just exactly went wrong.
To be sure, it has little presence as a hockey town, but its position in Australian politics should have been its saving grace. There is considerable North American and European presence in Canberra. So who is to blame for failing to produce a viable hockey entity?
It’s highly probable that the media market in this country was never cracked in Canberra. Appealing to the major news networks has little purpose, apart from an appeal to novelty – they are far too busy seeking the AFL, rugby league and cricket markets. It is a micro market, and requires some grassroots volume to bellow from the rooftops.
But mostly, Canberra is nothing if not a transient city, even outside of an election year, making it increasingly tough to attract – and keep – local talent and local diehard bums in the seats. With league rules clamping down on foreign talent, the odds weren’t great – despite the league allowing extra imports for this club, and this club only.
These are clearly moot points now. But in hockey, each game is its own entity, and the players on the Knights were clearly looking to 2014 for a breakout campaign. Because things can change pretty quickly in hockey (see the 1995 Quebec Nordi…I mean, Colorado Avalanche).
But as in most unfortunate situations, practicality becomes king, and the now ex-Knights feature a number of key players who would be welcomed on nearly any roster in the AIHL. Depending on their mobility, we could see significant roster upgrades with only six weeks left before the season starts.
So RIP Canberra Knights. Let a season of fast, skillful, and soulful puck rise from your ashes.