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MacGuy

Breaking the Ice The upstart Carolina Thunderbirds are hoping to stick around

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Breaking the Ice

The upstart Carolina Thunderbirds are hoping to do something no other professional hockey team in Winston-Salem has—stick around.

By Chris Gigley - Winston-Salem Journal

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Professional hockey is here to stay in Winston-Salem—again. The latest edition of the Carolina Thunderbirds, a name used by three previous local teams, is the 11th minor league hockey franchise to try to make a go of it in the Camel City since the early 1970s. This time, however, there is reason to believe the team will play longer than a handful of seasons at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex.

For one thing, the appetite for hockey in the area seems stronger. In August 2016, after news broke that pro hockey was returning to Winston-Salem via the Thunderbirds, Brad Damratoski and his wife were among hundreds of locals who signed up for season tickets.

“I was just excited to have a hockey team in Winston-Salem again,” says Damratoski. “Hockey is by far the best sport to watch live. There’s nothing like it.”

The Winston-Salem native knows this because while he was attending N.C. State University in Raleigh he saw a handful of NHL games. His college stint coincided with the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2005-06 Stanley Cup season, a title run that made Damratoski and many other North Carolinians hockey fans for life.

But Cat Pighini, vice president of ticket operations and customer relations for the Thunderbirds, says Winston-Salem also has a lot more relocated Northerners since the last time the city had pro hockey. That was 2009, when the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Twin City Cyclones folded up.

“The first thing people tell me is they’re from such-and-such town up north and grew up with hockey,” says Pighini. “They’re thrilled to have it back. People would rather put their allegiance toward the local team, as long as the level of play is good. We’re hearing that people are impressed with the level of play.”

Read more at: http://www.journalnow.com/winstonsalemmonthly/breaking-the-ice/article_b1fc7b3a-ea81-11e7-aa90-b799a73faff4.html

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A Brief History of Hockey in W-S

1973-1977: Winston-Salem Polar Twins (Southern Hockey League)

1981-1992: Carolina/Winston-Salem Thunderbirds (multiple leagues)

1995-1996: Winston-Salem Mammoths (Southern Hockey League)

1997-1999: Winston-Salem Icehawks (United Hockey League)

2002-2003: Winston-Salem Parrots (Atlantic Coast Hockey League)

2003-04: Winston-Salem T-Birds (Southeast Hockey League)

2004-05: Winston-Salem Polar Twins (Southern Pro Hockey League)

2007-09: Twin City Cyclones (Southern Pro Hockey League)

 

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Considering they're setting attendance records for the league (the only other team to come anywhere near close is the Danbury Whalers from a few years ago) I'd say they may have a legit shot at staying around longer than the league itself.

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6 hours ago, Speedracer said:

Considering they're setting attendance records for the league (the only other team to come anywhere near close is the Danbury Whalers from a few years ago) I'd say they may have a legit shot at staying around longer than the league itself.

I'd be inclined to agree with you, Speed, **IF** the team wasn't owned by Barry Soskin.  The man has more smoke & mirrors than a Las Vegas magic show.  :sly:

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15 minutes ago, Speedracer said:

... every single FHL owner's been shady ...

To be fair, there have been a few exceptions.  The original Watertown Wolves ownership group (a group of community investors) had their hearts in the right place, but became overwhelmed by the constant bleeding of money & the political aspects.  I also believe that former Brewster Bulldogs & Danbury Titans owner Bruce Bennett gave each a good try to support those two franchises; but in the end the costs of ownership got to be too much, and I doubt Soskin & Co. were very sympathetic to his plight.

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It seems like all I do is point out flaws in the F(ly by night)HL. 

1- they're willing to claim victory after less than half a season and...

2- The first thing people tell me is they’re from such-and-such town up north and grew up with hockey,” says Pighini. “They’re thrilled to have it back.  ....I'm sure these transplants will tell you about that infamous thing called "The Honeymoon Period" that's followed by the sudden death of the team(s) where they came from. 

Once again, ...just sayin'   

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7 minutes ago, TimO said:

It seems like all I do is point out flaws in the F(ly by night)HL. ...

Maybe you should seek counseling.  Or an FHL franchise ownership.  Either one will mess with your head.  :unsure:

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Just reviewing SPHL attendance, while W/S is impressive with 2214 (much better than their last stint as the Cyclones), it's still next to the bottom if they were in the SPHL

Here's their average from the last stint as the Cyclones, with their current attendance superimposed. 

Rgo6beN.jpg

Unfortunately they cannot seem to get out of the bottom of the SPHL, but they are the crown jewel for the FHL.

BTW: Don't think I didn't catch that remark that the "ECHL is the next level". It's the SPHL, THEN the ECHL...

 

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11 hours ago, Speedracer said:

... BTW: Don't think I didn't catch that remark that the "ECHL is the next level". It's the SPHL, THEN the ECHL...

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... Many FHL players ... are a year or two out of college and still hoping for a chance to reach the next level, the East Coast Hockey League, where teams are linked directly to the NHL. ...

 

The author was one of those kids in school who took the stairs two steps at a time.  Need to up his Ritalin dosage.  :rolleyes:

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Well Winston/Salem isn't exactly known for hockey observancy, which is sorta why this is a thing.

I will echo the above, that 2201/game, while second from the bottom, is a LOT better gate than W/S has done in a long time. In fact after checking HockeyDB the last team to finish a season over 2000/game in W/S was the ORIGINAL Thunderbirds, right before they moved north. So they've at least got a lot better traction to move forward than teams past.

One thought--wonder if the success of the Nouveau T-Birds has anything to do with why we haven't heard a peep out of the (purportedly Soskin-backed) UHL revival?

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On 12/30/2017 at 8:54 PM, Speedracer said:

Just reviewing SPHL attendance, while W/S is impressive with 2214 (much better than their last stint as the Cyclones), it's still next to the bottom if they were in the SPHL

Here's their average from the last stint as the Cyclones, with their current attendance superimposed. 

Rgo6beN.jpg

Unfortunately they cannot seem to get out of the bottom of the SPHL, but they are the crown jewel for the FHL.

BTW: Don't think I didn't catch that remark that the "ECHL is the next level". It's the SPHL, THEN the ECHL...

 

To be fair, the best they could do is 3,500.  That's as much as the arena seats for hockey.  Even as sellout levels, that's still in the bottom of the SPHL and probably the smallest arena.

As I said before, the Polar Twins were not well marketed; the cyclones were a relocation that no one knew about.  the Thunderbirds have been out working with the community, doing appearances and been talked about on TV and Radio.  They've done a much better job of making themselves known in the area.

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