Pardon the pun but my feelings are borderline with regards to the recent announcement that the Michigan-based Lake Superior State University Lakers will play one of their home games this season on the Ontario side of the International Bridge at GFL Memorial Gardens.
Upon hearing that the Lakers are moving one of their Western Collegiate Hockey Association home games for this season from Taffy Abel Arena in the Michigan Soo to GFL Memorial Gardens in Soo, Ontario, my first thought was that it was a win-win for cross-border hockey in Sault Ste. Marie.
Now, I am not so sure if this is as big a deal as the Lakers and politicians from both sides of the International Bridge are making it out to be.
First of all, the Lakers are risking causing friction with many of their fans, especially the older ones.
I mean, really, how many Laker season-ticket holders are going to be thrilled with the idea of heading across the International Bridge in the cold of February to watch their team play a “home” game against the University of Alabama-Hunstville Chargers?
And really, how many fans do the Lakers expect to draw at GFL Memorial Gardens as opposed to what they attract to Taffy Abel Arena? For instance, when the Lakers played Alabama-Huntsville at Taffy Abel Arena last January, they drew just over 2,000 fans for each of the two games.
It used to be, back in their championship days of 25-30 years ago, that the Lakers used to draw quite a few fans from the Canadian side of the St. Mary’s River to their games. Back then, the Lakers were a hot ticket and averaged well in excess of 3,000 fans per home game at Taffy Abel Arena.
Now, the Lakers don’t draw nearly as many fans as they once did, mainly because of ongoing, poor performances on ice, including having had just two winning seasons in the past 12 years.
At any rate, I am not sold on the fact that having one game at GFL Memorial Gardens is going to result in very many fans of the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League becoming Laker followers for more than the single event match on February 15.
Having said all of that, I am planning on taking in the game when the Lakers play Alabama-Huntsville. And maybe, just maybe, I will be part of a big crowd at GFL Memorial Gardens — though I doubt it.
In the meantime, here is some of what is being said by those who have any sort of stake in the upcoming, north-of-the-border game between Lake State and Alabama-Huntsville.
“Laker hockey is very excited to partner with the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and the GFL Memorial Gardens for this event. It is great to be involved in an event that can connect the storied hockey history that these sister cities share. We hope to continue to build this relationship and there’s no better way to do it than through the great game of hockey.” — Lakers head coach Damon Whitten.
“The Lakers are coming off their best season in 23 years and the community is looking forward to this historic event. It is a great way to bring the Twin Saults together for an exciting night of Division I hockey.” — LSSU president Dr. Rodney Hanley.
“This is certainly exciting news for hockey fans in our area. As we all know, Sault Ste. Marie is a tremendous hockey community and the GFL Memorial Gardens is a great location for this game. I encourage people to buy tickets, and I hope to see many of our neighbours from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in attendance.” — Sault, Ontario mayor Christian Provenzano.
“This is a fantastic opportunity certainly for Lake Superior State University and the City of Sault Ste. Marie to showcase the great calibre of hockey in our area. We thank the administration of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and LSSU for coordinating this tremendous opportunity.” — Sault, Michigan Mayor Tony Bosbous.
“There is a unique and rich hockey tradition on both sides of the St. Mary’s River. With only 3.5 miles separating them, no NCAA Division I hockey program and Major Junior program are closer in proximity. We see this as an opportunity to celebrate the game at all levels as well as a stage to showcase the many positive aspects of our university. We are re thrilled to be in partnership with GFL Gardens.” — LSSU athletic director Dr. David Paitson.
“All of us at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association are excited to see Lake Superior State and Alabama Huntsville take our game north of the border. I want to congratulate David Paitson, Damon Whitten and the athletic department staff at Lake Superior State for their work to make this unique opportunity a reality. This is a great day for the WCHA and collegiate hockey.” — WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson.
PHOTO: LSSU Lakers head coach Damon Whitten.