No NHL? No problem

Local hockey players, fans weigh in on canceled season

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Mike Boatright remembers when interest in the Craig Youth Hockey League increased after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001. He hasn't noticed any adverse affects from the lack of a National Hockey League during the 2004 season.

"We've had more kids locally than we've ever had," the CYHL president said. "So really, I can't say if the lack of a season has been a deterrent or not."

On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, announced that there would be no season. The players union and the owners couldn't come to an agreement. Local hockey fans expressed mixed emotions.

"Both sides are being greedy," said Dave Prince, a Craig resident who said his interest in hockey grew when he attended games of the original NHL team in Denver, the Colorado Rockies, when he was in college. "The fan was never considered in any of it."

According to news reports, the hurdle that could not be overcome in the negotiations was a discrepancy of $6.5 million dollars in total salary caps for each team.

"It's too bad that people who are getting paid millions are arguing about money," Craig Cougar midget hockey player Aaric Seick said. "People who want to play hockey can't play right now."

"It's hard, as a fan, to pick sides," said Mitch Uttech of Steamboat Springs, who would attend 10 to15 Avs games a year. "Everybody is being stubborn. They are going to have to win some fans back."

The cancellation is the first time in the big four of professional sports (hockey, football, basketball and baseball) that a season has not been played.

Tom Fox of Steamboat owns Colorado Avalanche season tickets. Although he is worried about the future of the NHL, he doesn't expect any problems to trickle down to local hockey.

"Craig and Steamboat have healthy local programs," he said. "Hockey in Northwest Colorado is competitive, and I don't think the young players have been affected. They worry more about ice time than the NHL"

Fox said that from his experience, Avalanche owner Stan Kronke has handled the situation gracefully.

"He recognized that there could be no season early and offered options to season-ticket holders," he said. "We had three options for refunds and it was handled proactively. But I think Kronke is an exception."

The Avs are a financially healthy franchise. The have a new facility, the Pepsi Center, and they sell out nearly every game. The owners struggling in the NHL have a hard time filling half of their stadiums' seats, and those stadiums are dilapidated.

Although there is no NHL, and most everybody agrees that the league is going to have to win fans back, hockey at other levels in Colorado is not suffering.

The Colorado Eagles, a semi-professional team of the Central Hockey League, calls Fort Collins its home. That team has had 55 consecutive home sellouts. The University of Denver men's hockey team won a national title last year. In this week's USA TODAY/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey poll DU is ranked second and Colorado College, in Colorado Springs is ranked third.

"I've heard it is almost impossible to get tickets to a DU game," Fox said.

In a story that appeared in a metro Denver online newspaper, westword.com, Colorado College head coach Scott Owens predicted that at least 10 percent of the fans who are packing the 7,343 seat World Arena are unhappy NHL fans. The stadium just started to fill up for every game at about Christmas time.

The Cougar players agreed that they might have been more affected if they lived in Denver and made the Avs a regular thing.

"It's gotta be disappointing for the season-ticket holders," Cougar Brad Grinstead said.

"Now for us, we just get to watch different teams," Seick added.

Both college teams appear on cable TV regularly. The Altitude Channel, owned by Kronke, and Fox Sports Network show DU, CC and Colorado Eagles games.

"There's still good hockey to watch," Uttech said.

"I just go and watch the local kids if I need my hockey now," Prince said.

As the future of the NHL still is in limbo, local and regional versions of the greatest show on ice don't seem to be too bothered.

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