By RANDY RUSSON, Mika Media
Give and take can help make a junior hockey franchise. Give your time to the community and be in a better position to take back from it with fan support and corporate sponsorship.
Soo Eagles are a good example of doing work in the community that pays off. Now a first-year member of the North American Hockey League, the Eagles became a bigger hit with their fans while in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League by being very active in the community.
When the current ownership/management of the Eagles took over in 2010, average per-game attendance from the 2009-10 season was 377. Under the new regime, average attendance jumped to 566 for the 2010-11 season and increased to 638 for the 2011-12 campaign.
To be sure, the Eagles on-ice successes (they won the NOJHL championship in 2010-11) had something to do with the increase in attendance but there are hockey fans in Sault Ste. Marie who will point to the team’s community involvement as a major reason for the gate boost.
Eagles coach-general manager Bruno Bragagnolo, assistant GM Gerry Fraser and players on the team were fixtures at community events during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, giving of their time to minor hockey on a weekly basis, not to mention visiting local and area schools and health care facilities with regularity.
And just this summer, the Eagles were well represented at a number of community functions, including a fish derby and sidewalk sale days.
In a town that also features the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association Lake Superior State Lakers, the AAA midget Soo Indians and the Soo High Blue Devils hockey teams, the Eagles have revived junior hockey through extensive off-ice, community participation.
And it’s not as though the current Eagle regime took over a franchise that was on solid footing. In fact, not only had two prior NOJHL franchises failed to make a go of it in Sault Ste. Marie, namely Northern Michigan Black Bears and Soo Indians, but the Eagles were in danger of folding before current ownership took over.
Now, with Bragagnolo at the helm of the hockey department, the Eagles have made their mark in the community through a volunteer base that is not only hardworking but tirelessly devoted to the cause of junior hockey.
“We would not be around without our volunteers,” said Bragagnolo, who has never been shy to sing the praises of those who help give the Eagles the high profile they now have in Sault Ste. Marie.
“Community involvement and volunteer assistance are huge,” said Bragagnolo. “They have helped make the Soo Eagles what we are as we become members of the North American Hockey League.”
The new-look Springfield Jr. Blues begin training camp, complete with total player development, this Saturday.
Jr. Blues’ coach-general manager Tony Zasowski, who was hired by new owner Dan Ferguson, informed me that his team will be on the ice twice a day for two weeks and that will be just part of the training.
“We are flying in a power-skating instructor from California, Cathy Andrade, to work with our players during the second week,” noted Zasowski. “We have also partnered with the MMA Clinic in Springfield to work on core training, balance, flexibility and conditioning. The lead coach is Marc Fiore, who has trained UFC world champions. And the Fit Club of Springfield will handle the rest of our strength and conditioning to give our players a total off-ice developmental experience.”
Zasowski said the Jr. Blues are already involved in the community prior to the start of the 2012-13 NAHL season, noting that the team attended a parade in Springfield last week and have a booth set up at the Illinois State Fair, which last year attracted more than 750,000 people.