Ok, that title is a bit of an exaggeration. Hopefully we are not without The Iowa Chops this season, but the way the Schlegels have continually screwed over hockey fans in Des Moines is unsettling to say the least. Still, there may be hope on the horizon.
Since we first learned that Anaheim pulled the plug on their affiliation with us, things have developed oddly. After hearing that the Schlegels did not pay the Ducks, rumors have circulated about Anaheim only wanting a one year deal with us from the get go. This makes me a little suspicious about the whole missed payment ordeal. Perhaps this whole scheme was orchestrated by the NHL club's management and is not the fault of the Schlegels (improbable, but quite possible). Either way, the bad press could have a very negative impact on our ability to draw a new NHL affiliate.
Rumors, sparked by Schlegel spokesman Aaron Artman, began to arise regarding the level of hockey in Des Moines next season. Despite the early reports that Schlegel must field an AHL team at Wells Fargo Arena, there has been a lot of buzz about moving down to an ECHL, CHL, or IHL team. Regardless of the language, the hockey fans in DM are not idiots; we know the difference between a AAA team and a AA team in terms of talent and skill. The CHL is barely AA hockey and the IHL is a bankruptcy waiting to happen (after changing their name from UHL in 2007, only 5 of the 6 teams remain; at least 2 of them are financially unstable).
Status reports have been fairly consistent this season. However, most say nothing useful. The most recent press release attempts to be encouraging, but leaves many of us that are monitoring the situation scratching our heads. Yesterday's conference call with the league seems to have yielded nothing. Early reports indicate that Iowa is the only unaffiliated franchise in the AHL.
Since the announcement was made, I have been scouring the Internet to learn the status of other NHL-AHL relationships. Rumors were the bulk of what I found. Many centered on Edmonton hating Springfield and using Iowa as a stopgap this season before moving their dormant AHL franchise to Oklahoma City. Others circled around the potential move of the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario and its ripple effect through both leagues. Speculation about an NHL move to Kansas City continues to suggest a planned long-term affiliation deal for the Chops. Regardless, most of it is unfounded word-of-mouth and baseless hope. Then something remarkable happened...
Earlier today, I stumbled across this blog post. Here is some key text from the post:
"Carolina has used the Albany River Rats as its AHL team for the last three seasons. In 2006-07, they shared the team with the Colorado Avalanche. For the last two seasons, it has been all Carolina. That contract expired at the end of the 2008-09 season. I haven’t heard anything about whether they will renew that association or if the Hurricanes will look elsewhere. Say, Iowa…
Seems like the Iowa Chops would be a good match for the Canes. At least from a marketing standpoint. The Canes already have a hog for a mascot. So do the Chops. The existing color scheme for the Chops is pretty similar to that of the Canes. For the record, Iowa is the leading pork producing state in the US, and North Carolina is second. Which sort of explains all the piggy business."
This opens some doors for us. It also has the potential to be an even better match than the author speculates. First of all, the Hurricanes fans take pride in their lovingly applied moniker for the team "Redneck Hockey." If that blue collar attitude does not resonate with the fan base here, I am not sure what will (not that we are rednecks; I mean that loving embrace of not being Canadians, New Englanders, or snotty West Coasters that the Carolinians share).
Second, arguably the biggest star on the 'Canes is Eric Cole. Des Moines fans should be quite familiar with Cole from his time with the DM Bucs. His picture hangs on one of the banners outside of Buccaneer Arena. Granted he will probably never play in Des Moines, but we could all take pride in having a former Buc on the parent team.
Third, a lot of hockey people feel that Carolina has no business having a team just like a lot of (ignorant) Bucs fans feel that DM has no business in the AHL. Just like the 'Canes proved the doubters wrong by winning a Stanley Cup in 2006, the Chops shut up the nimrods loyal to Hickman by exceeding 10,000 fans not once, but twice in 2008-09. For the record, Bucs Arena only holds 3,250.
Regardless, I will continue to support both hockey teams in the metro. My level of support may change, but I will continue to be a fan of both teams. Personally, I prefer watching the top professional minor league in the world over the top amateur junior hockey league in the United States because of the skill levels involved. The AHL is merely a step away from the NHL (as we learned frequently this season) while the USHL is a gateway to college.
Should we move down a couple of levels in pro hockey, the quality of play will decrease significantly and reach the point where the NHL will be a pipe dream to the players. At that point the Bucs' players would stand a better chance of hitting the big league than those on the Chops. Like many fans, I am not buying a season ticket package until the Chops are confirmed members of the AHL for 2009-10.
Listen up Schlegel - It's AHL or nothing! Go Meat.
I realize that I once again hijacked the lacrosse site to report on hockey, but understand that hockey will always be my true love. Lacrosse is my concubine. The Chops are the only professional ice hockey team in the state and are very important to me.