New ice age for Colorado Springs? 


After months of behind-the-scenes developments, ice hockey now appears certain to provide the next promising chapter of professional sports history in Colorado Springs.

Nobody has announced the details, because the timing isn’t crucial at this point, but a consortium of business, civic, government and sports leaders have been assembling a package deal that should bring the top level of minor-league hockey to Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor World Arena starting with the 2021-22 season.

In simple terms, the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League — the top affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames — would relocate from California to Colorado Springs. Amid Stockton’s declining economy, the Heat has endured four years of steadily decreasing attendance, now with the AHL’s lowest average crowd size (just 2,761 a game) despite having a first-place team in a market with about the same population as Colorado Springs.

It’s great news on this end, in part because it won’t require a huge financial commitment. The main cost will be an arena retrofit to adjust the playing surface dimensions. The positives make a plentiful list.

• Colorado College is building its new on-campus Robson Arena, set to open in 2021, removing Tiger hockey as the World Arena’s primary tenant. Bringing an AHL team here would mean a minimum of 34 home games a season, plus playoffs, with 5-7 home dates a month from October to early April. CC’s schedule is shorter (17 home games this season) and more sporadic, with rare home games between mid-November and January.
• The quality of hockey would be excellent, comparable to what Springs-area baseball fans experienced with the Sky Sox as primary affiliate to the Colorado Rockies and later the Milwaukee Brewers. The minimum AHL player salary is $50,000 a year, and the average salary closer to $90,000. That’s a far cry from current rookie league Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball players, who make about $1,000 a month and often stay in host homes.

• Other AHL franchises would save on travel costs by combining road trips with the Colorado Eagles, based in Loveland, and the Eagles would become an instant natural rival for Colorado Springs. Also, the team here would stay in the AHL’s Pacific Division against the Eagles, Tucson, San Diego, Bakersfield, San Jose and Ontario (east of Los Angeles).

• The Stockton team’s CEO, Brian Petrovek, lived in Colorado Springs as a USA Hockey executive in the 1990s and would fit in immediately on a personal level. That familiarity obviously has helped in the ongoing negotiations.

• It’s also encouraging to hear that Stockton hasn’t had a losing season in its five years as an AHL member. And access to Calgary for player moves and oversight would be no problem, with nonstop flights to and from Denver.

Some will wonder whether Colorado Springs can support an AHL franchise with the expectation of drawing more than 5,000 fans a game (the Colorado Eagles now average 5,204), and that’s a fair question. But in the World Arena’s first 15 years, when Colorado College hockey was far more successful and promoted more effectively, the Tigers typically averaged 5,000 to 6,000 a game and regularly ranked among the top college programs nationally for attendance.

As for the cost to an everyday fan, Stockton now charges $16 to $38 a seat, with eight-pack deals from $17.90 to $30 a ticket. Season tickets range from $250 to $620 each, depending on seat location. Similar prices here would be reasonable.

The team will have to be marketed aggressively, but everyone involved already knows that. And having the home arena across the street from USA Hockey’s headquarters has to be a plus.
Yes, it’s unfortunate to take a team from another city, but such is life in the sports world. Colorado Springs has been on the losing end before, especially in baseball.

If all goes well, not this time.


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