by Danielle Barnes, Staff Writer, AHL Report

(Photo by Julia Price | Rocket Sports Media)

ST. JOHN’S, NL. — When driving through the streets of downtown St. John’s, you can easily tell when it is game night for the St. John’s IceCaps, as the streets are flooded with fans. On Saturday March 18th, I joined the throngs heading to Mile One Centre to take in the IceCaps game against the Rochester Americans.  While the game was filled with suspense and excitement, my attention on this night was on the fans and their love for their home-town team.

For the past six years, through affiliations with the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have had the opportunity to watch the IceCaps compete against teams from all over Canada and the United States in the American Hockey League (AHL). AHL hockey has a long tradition in this city, going back to a lengthy stay by the St. John’s Maple Leafs, celebrating 20 years of affiliation with the league.

While the various incarnations of the team have had their ups and downs throughout many seasons, their presence has not only made an impact on the lives of hockey fans but on the people of the province as well.

As I sat and watched the game, I couldn’t help but notice the fan reactions to what was happening on the ice. With every breakaway, assist, shot or goal, the arena was filled with energy as the crowd cheered for their team. Throughout the game, it became clear to me that the game presentation crew catered to children in multiple ways.

At the very start of the game, a young child dressed in IceCaps gear skated around the ice, before standing with the team during the national anthems. Kids were thrilled to see themselves featured on the Jumbotron throughout the entire evening, and were also selected to ride the Zamboni during intermissions.   At one point, one young hockey fan was even featured interviewing the IceCaps captain, Max Friberg.

In every instance, it was touching to see faces light up when being spotlighted. It is undeniable how the team has touched the lives of so many youth throughout the team’s history in St. John’s.

An impact has also been felt in the community as the St. John’s team supports numerous initiatives through the IceCaps Care Foundation. They include the Autism Society, the NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre, the NL Down Syndrome Society, and the Special Olympics.  It is clear that the team has not only been able to touch the lives of hockey fans through their games, but they have also had a profound effect on the province off the ice.

Losing the team will also have an effect on the province economically. This will especially be evident for the individuals employed with the IceCaps and at Mile One Arena. While Mile One is Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest entertainment venue, the IceCaps hockey team is their primary tenant.

As the team relocates to Quebec next season, many will be forced to find jobs elsewhere. Not only are the fans and community affected from the loss of the team, there is also the likelihood that many people may lose their source of employment.

The St. John’s IceCaps have not only touched the lives of hockey fans, but they have also made a huge difference to the province from an entertainment standpoint, economically,  through their charitable foundation, as well as being role models for the children of St. John’s.

Although this is the last IceCaps season in Newfoundland and Labrador, the impact that they have had on the province will not be soon forgotten. And while we wish them well in their new home in Laval, it will still be hard to say goodbye to a team that has meant so much to so many – hopefully, though, not until fans get to enjoy a long run in the postseason.

Edited by Donna Sim