New Grizzlies Hockey Franchise Bears Watching

Rochester Post Bulletin – May 2nd 2018

Even before the first puck drops for the Rochester Grizzlies, hockey fans have a rink full of reasons to celebrate.

The North American Hockey League club formerly known as the Rochester Ice Hawks was purchased last month by the owners of the Austin Bruins. They quickly rebranded the Tier 3 Rochester team as the Grizzlies and have a three-year agreement with the Rochester Recreation Center to keep the team on the ice there.

That’s great news for everyone concerned, first of all for the Rec Center, which counts on the junior hockey team for a large chunk of revenue annually. The contract signed April 3 calls for the Grizzlies to pay $800 per game and $500 per month for offices and locker room rental, plus additional fees for extra-hour ice rental. A copy of the contract is attached to this column at Postbulletin.com.

The Rec Center just received an expensive and overdue facelift as part of the joint $26 million project with the new 125 Live center next door, and it would have been a body blow if the Ice Hawks had flown the coop.

The Bruins — a Tier 2 NAHL team, a notch above the Rochester team — and owners Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper run a top-quality operation in Austin, and they intend to do the same with the Rochester team, which has gone through a rocky period since joining the NAHL and will be a feeder team for the Bruins.

The Bruins ownership also shows a welcome commitment to the community.   Cooper told Post Bulletin reporter Jason Feldman, “We want to provide a great product on the ice but get into the community as well. That’s been a big part of what we’ve done in Austin.” The players have contributed over 500 service hours in the community, he said. “It’s about the hockey, but it’s also about being a part of the community.”

That kind of approach will add to the Grizzlies’ appeal, and if the hockey’s good, Rochester fans have shown they’ll turn out.

Those fans owe a debt of thanks to “Doc” Fatis and the former ownership and players for the Ice Hawks, who played in Rochester for the better part of a decade and built a dedicated following.

You wouldn’t know it from the local critics who are opposed to any discussion of a multi-purpose arena at Mayo Civic Center — one that might entice a minor-league hockey franchise — but Rochester is a good hockey town, and as it grows, so will the demand for more sports entertainment options.

 A lot is riding on the Grizzlies’ ability to field a good, competitive team this fall, but if they do, they’ll find an audience.