(Graig Abel/Graig Abel Photography/Getty Images)
Can two pro teams live together in harmony? The NHL Jets and AHL Moose are proving it’s possible.
By Joshua Kloke
When the Manitoba Moose returned to Winnipeg this year after four seasons in St. John’s, Nfld., the team enjoyed a rare distinction: it became one of just two AHL franchises to share the same arena as its NHL affiliate. The San Jose Barracuda, with their affiliate, the Sharks, are the other.
It’s become a trend for NHL teams to keep their AHL squads closer to home. Excitement over the Jets’ return to Winnipeg in 2011 has yet to subside and, according to Dan Hursh, vice president of operations for the Moose, the Jets’ passionate fan base aided the Moose’s return. “Certainly the success the Jets have had and the support they’ve enjoyed from the fans and the corporate community were factors that we looked at when we made that decision to bring the AHL franchise back to Winnipeg,” he said.
Hursh said the logistics of scheduling adequate practice time for the two hockey teams in the same arena hasn’t been problematic but added, “It’s certainly been a challenge.”
Having the Moose back in Manitoba so Jets coaching and management can have better access to players is only one of the benefits. It’s also good for Jets fans. “It’s much more conducive to families, kids and large groups, teams and organizations that want to acquire a lot of tickets,” Hursh said, “both from a price-point standpoint but also because tickets are that much more available.”
Darryl Martel, a fan of the Moose since 1996, agrees. He said the lower cost of tickets is why he prefers AHL games to NHL games. “It’s more affordable, and I don’t mind seeing the up-and-coming talent,” Martel said. “The NHL is the end product, but the AHL is the up-and-coming product.”
And while it’s great that fans get to see the prospects, it’s good that the prospects get to see the fans and the community. “Having our Manitoba Moose players, the prospects, in the city and in the province allows them to see what it’s like to be a professional in this city,” Hursh said. “This is the city where they are aspiring to be NHL hockey players, so they’re learning to be professionals in this market.”
The continued sellouts the Jets enjoy, as well as the strong early-season turnouts for the Moose – an average of around 7,000 fans, including a sellout of 8,812 in their first game (only the lower bowl is used for AHL games)– indicate there isn’t too much professional hockey in a city of 700,000 people.