By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – With a record of 5-2-0-0 heading into Friday night’s game against the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake, the Timmins Rock are off to a strong start this season.
And we are not just talking about the on-ice product, either.
Building upon a highly successful first season back in Timmins that saw the Rock finish second in NOJHL attendance with an average of 595 fans per game — second only to the Soo Eagles’ figure of 622 fans — attendance is up so far in 2016-17.
With an average of 669 fans per game through four home dates, the Rock are No. 1 in attendance.
That represents the third-largest increase in fan support in the league this season, trailing only the Blind River Beavers (up 216 fans per game) and the Espanola Express (up 80 fans per game).
Those three teams, along with the Eagles (up 26 fans per game), represent the good news in terms of fan support across the NOJHL this season.
Unfortunately, however, the news is not quite as good in the NOJHL’s eight other markets, including the locations of the Rock’s three main rivals — the Cochrane Crunch, the Iroquois Falls Eskis and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
On the ice, the Crunch (7-0-1-1) had the best record in the NOJHL heading into play Friday night.
Attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre (243 fans per game), however, is down 175 fans per game — representing the largest decrease in support in the league.
The Crunch have fallen from fourth over all in 2015-16 down to eighth at this point in 2016-17.
Down Highway 11, the Gold Miners (5-4-0-1) finished a disappointing sixth in attendance last season — even though Kirkland Lake hosted the Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament.
Despite a plea from ownership over the summer that an increase in local corporate and fan support would be necessary to keep the franchise in town, average attendance has fallen by 70 fans per game.
With a record of 1-8-0-0, wavering fan support for the Eskis (352 fans per game) in Iroquois Falls is, perhaps, understandable.
But even with a reduction of 84 fans per game, the Eskis still rank No. 4 in the NOJHL.
If the Rock continue to enjoy success on the ice, we are confident that will translate into even better numbers at the gate.
Hopefully, fans in Cochrane, Kirkland Lake and Iroquois Falls will start to fill the arenas in those communities, as well.
— Thomas Perry