Life as an AHL fan

Most of you know the trials and tribulations of hockey year round. You grew up with it, and probably all have played it.

But growing up in Alabama, my passion as a kid was college football (Roll Tide!). I only started getting into hockey in the late 80s.

I was so excited when the Sharks came into the league in 1991. Mrs. Finest bought me tickets to my first NHL game: Sharks versus Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. An 8-0 shellacking by the Penguins was the result, but it only furthered my taste for hockey.

Being a couple hours away from both San Francisco and San Jose, and the cost of NHL tickets, kept our attendance to a few games a year after that. The most games I ever attended in a season was around eight, as the company I worked for had season tickets. We also mixed in some games while traveling. I have seen games in the following cities: Montreal, New York (MSG), Philadelphia (back when it was the First Union, or the F.U. Center), Atlanta, Nashville, Colorado, Phoenix, Los Angeles (the old Forum), and most recently, Las Vegas and Calgary.

Fast forward to 2015. I went to a few Stockton Thunder games, but never was a die-hard fan. When the Heat came to town, we were given some free tickets from a friend and sat in a section behind the goalie. That game, in early January 2016, set the appetite for additional games, maybe even a partial season ticket plan. After discussing with our Heat sales rep, we decided to take the plunge and purchase a full season plan.

During the offseason, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of differences between the two leagues from a fan’s perspective.

Quality of play: Advantage NHL

Duh… This is an obvious one. But the AHL does provide a firsthand look at prospects, draft picks, and some youngsters who all have passion for the game.

Roster: Advantage NHL

In July, Flames fans know about 90% of the roster going into the season. At the AHL level, Heat fans won’t know their roster until about a week before the season.

Plus an AHL fan only gets to see the star players for a short time before they get called up to the NHL. It is rare that a star player ever gets sent down to the minors.

Player access: Advantage AHL

The Heat will have multiple opportunities throughout the year for season ticket holders and other fans to meet the players, ask questions, and get autographs. Players are also signing autographs between periods at most home games. It allows Mrs. Finest to ask her “Why aren’t you playing?” question to a scratched player.

Merchandise: Advantage AHL

I would say there are more items related to the NHL, but I can’t remember ever seeing as many game-worn jersey auctions and raffles as I have seen the past 2 ½ years as I have seen with the Heat. Plus the Heat do a great job of finding different items for the fans.

Side Note: Going to games in the Stockton Arena is like a trip down memory lane, seeing all of the past players’ game-worn Stockton Heat and Thunder jerseys on fans who purchased them; some still with the organization and those who have ventured off to other cities and countries. You also see a lot of different teams, including the ever-present Charlestown Chiefs Hanson jerseys.

Management access: Advantage AHL

When was the last time a season ticket holder for the Flames had a one-on-one meeting with Ken King or Brad Treliving? Or even saw either one of them on the concourse during a game? I have had two meetings with Brian Petrovek, the Heat’s CEO, about some marketing ideas and other topics related to the Heat. He can be seen walking the concourse on game days. I have even run into him when we were in San Jose at both a Heat and Flames game.

There are at least three “Coach’s Chalk Talks” held throughout the year where season ticket holders can ask questions of the various coaches. Petrovek also has an open meeting every Monday morning at the hotel coffee shop across from the arena to meet all fans who have questions.

Media: Advantage NHL

I can read all about the Flames, and the NHL is general, all year long on various platforms, such as this great site (suck up points). As for the Heat and AHL in general, especially offseason moves, I have to hunt to find even a line or two on the AHL site and even HFBoards.

The Heat do provide some updates on their website throughout the offseason, but not as much as the NHL.

Pricing: Advantage AHL

I know you pay for quality, but I can buy both my and Mrs. Finest’s entire season tickets – 34 games plus preseason and first round of playoffs – to the Heat (seven rows back from the glass behind the goalie) for the cost of three NHL games with the same seats. Plus, based on the night and crowd, I can actually sit glass-side without a hassle from the ushers.

Side note: If anyone is planning to come south to watch a Heat game, let me know so I can hook you up with tickets. Sit where you want, unless it is Star Wars Night or the Teddy Bear Toss.

Scheduling: Advantage both

The NHL has seven more games than the AHL (41 versus 34 for the AHL Western Division) for their advantage. But the Heat have only six games that are NOT on a weekend (two holiday Monday games and four Wednesday games). So I only have to rush home from work mid-week once in October, December, January, and April.

Arena: Advantage both

The AHL arena is typically smaller than an NHL barn which makes our home easier to walk around and parking is typically closer and cheaper. However, an NHL arena has more concession options (Canadian beer), a better sound system, and better video boards and replays.

I am in no way trying to say that the AHL is anywhere near the NHL in terms of players, games, etc. Everyone knows that the NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world. I just wanted to point out some of the things that Mrs. Finest and I experience as full season ticket holders in the AHL in comparison to that of an NHL franchise.

  • dewtel

    I love your idea of having an preseason game in Stockton, perhaps against the Ducks, LA, SJ, Phoenix or Vegas. The Flames could include NHL stars, AHL regulars, and Prospects. Have an autograph session with all the roster and even bring some alumni. To me this would create a real bond between the team and community. Perhaps next year.

    • Jobu

      I think this is the best idea Jobu has ever heard! Not just for Heat/Flames, but for all NHL clubs. Play the preseason outside of home ice and develop your brand in cities not normally exposed to it.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    I’d love to hear SF’s viewpoint on one other comparison… the GIve a Sh!t level. My guess is that varies team to team in the AHL depending on the ratio of prospects to journeymen.

  • As a life long hockey fan, player(who hasn’t had skates on in a decade, but is still confident he can play any position…been a skateboarder for 30+ years but hockey was first!) and Calgarian since ‘89, I for one would like to see the Heat stay in Stockton. Stability is a good thing. Abbotsford has a great skatepark but good luck finding a Heat hat.

  • meat1

    Well done SF. Both of your articles today made for good reading. And more than anything, I compliment you on how highly you ALWAYS speak of Mrs. Finest… It’s very refreshing to hear that. I hope that the Heat stay in Stockton for many years to come. Keep on keeping on with the updates, we truly appreciate them.

  • Skylardog

    Would like to have had some insight on how you feel when one of your Heat makes the permanent or even temporary move to the NHL. Is it a pride in seeing them go or a sense of loss?

    Great article!

    • Stockton's Finest

      A little of both. I miss watching them live but I get to see more of them watching games on the NHL package. It is always cool to see someone graduate and have success at the next level. There are a few Stockton fans that do not understand the purpose of the Heat, not fully grasping that this is a stepping stone to the bigs. But most season ticket holders are like me, proud to see “our guy” contribute on the big club.

      Last year Mrs. Finest and I cheered when we saw Jankowski score or was on a scoring play. We both talk about how great it was to see him mature and hone his skills and to see him make the show.

    • Cheeky

      I compare it to when we had the Cannons here (AAA baseball to those that don’t know). Seattle was the parent team for many years and watching some great players graduate or even play a couple games was awe inspiring (Tito Martinez, A Rod). Always cheered them onto success in majors – wasn’t the same with Pittsburg as parent team then we lost them altogether…?

  • Hockeysense9393

    Great write up sir thank you for this. My main concern as a Flames “prospect” fan is the Stockton Heat site actually. It is so argravating to traverse that thing just to find out what’s going on down there and to keep in touch with how the prospects are actually doing. It is confusing and very limited… All the site seems focused on is various promotions for games and such, and not really focused on the game and prospects itself.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I think your being a Stockton Heat fan can be easily understood by Hitmen fans or fans of any other CHL club. One big difference, however, is that it can sometimes be painful to watch and cheer for a Hitman who was drafted by a club other than the Flames knowing that the kid will return to the Dome in a few years to bash the brains out of the Flames. Definitely mixed emotions there.

    Playoffs for farm clubs and junior clubs might be more emotionally involved for fans than for fans of NHL teams because the fans know there will be a high turnover of players on the farm and in junior from season to season, so there really isn’t a “wait until next year ” mentality for fans of those clubs. It is live for the moment.