The Lethbridge Hurricanes were put in a tough situation in Round 1 of the 2019 WHL Playoffs, one they’ve never been in before as a franchise.
Their normal home in Lethbridge, the ENMAX Centre was jam packed for the World Men’s Curling Championships which in turn left the Hurricanes without a home for Games 5 and 7.
The Hurricanes hummed and hawed about using different arenas within the city, and even Jr. A arenas outside city limits were considered although WHL rules forced a decision on Nicholas Sheran Arena on the west side of town.
Dustin Forbes the Hurricanes Broadcast and Communications Manager, and Play-by-play voice said from the advice they received was they had to keep it within the city, “certainly the capacity wasn’t there, but in terms of facility aspect for players and coaches that was up to code.”
“At the end of the day, it’s a difficult situation when you’re in a playoff series and you have to play a game not in your usual confines and your usual venue, it kind of adds to the challenge of the post-season”
Named after one of the city’s founders, and built over 40 years ago, the arena holds about 1,200 fans.
A mere fraction of the Hurricanes 2018 WHL Playoffs attendance average of 4,316 fans per home game.
The Hurricanes knew this was going to be a possibility back in February when they announced the plan for season ticket holders.
The ‘Canes have almost 2600 season ticket holders during the regular season at the ENMAX Centre.
In light of the situation, the club held a “ticket draw” something most fans had never heard of.
It was done as fair as possible, with playoff package ticket holders names being put into a draw for a ticket to either Game 5 or Game 7. With no walk-ups allowed, package holders were guaranteed at least one of those contests.
Although with the leftover seats Forbes said a few were lucky enough to receive both.
Forbes said although it was small, the team made the best of what they had for games 5 and 7.
“Both games were incredible, when you can pack in just about 1300 people into an small rink like that, and the energy was high, it was bumping for warm-up and there wasn’t a seat to be had.”
Fans that wanted to attend weren’t left in the dark either.
The ‘Canes set up a fan zone with a roughly 600 person capacity that showed the game on a big screen and added games, prizes, a DJ, a 50/50, a pre-game show, and of course food and beverage options.
All of this had to be put into place, something that the team seemingly went out of their way to do for their fans that took advantage of the opportunity.
Forbes described the scene “From what I’ve heard, it was a pretty fun atmosphere there.”
The arena is regularly used for USPORTS as the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns Men and Women regularly call the facility home.
It might be alright for that league, but it wasn’t up to par for the Western Hockey League.
To pour salt in the wound, the City of Lethbridge had to foot the bill for a handful of major upgrades. Forbes said that included a lot of different categories.
“There were certain things that had to be done for WHL regulations, like overhead cameras for goal judges, and goal judge lights, and new glass, and things like that”
The World Curling Championships brought in a lot of economic boost to the windy city in southern Alberta, but they left the Hurricanes franchise at least $60,000 per game as reported by Global Lethbridge.
Fans that attended the rink will say it was worth it though as the atmosphere was absolutely electric, something Forbes said could be felt right through his headset.
“The atmosphere in there was incredible, and a lot of that goes hand in hand with the hard work by the team and by the City of Lethbridge, but also the fans. The fact they came out and were still loud and boisterous for the team to the bitter end.”
The ‘Canes are on a shortlist of teams forced to do the same kind of thing when it comes to teams forced from their regular home come playoff time. The most recent comparable being the Kamloops Blazers who played in the Kamloops Memorial Arena in 2016.
The Brandon Wheat Kings are regularly unable to use their building in the first round of the playoffs due to the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair held at their home arena in the late stages of March.