As the temperatures drop and summer gives way to autumn and the hockey leagues once again begin their new seasons, for the second year in a row Worcester fans are without an opening night to attend. While there is a new sheet of ice at the DCU Center, it’s for a pair of Holy Cross home games and not there to welcome a new professional team to the building. But unlike last year, local fans are comforted in knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And they’re happy that light is a train.
Even though fans have to wait another year until the Worcester Railers drop the puck in their inaugural ECHL season in many respects the front office is acting like it’s game on right now. “We’re doing community appearances just like we would do if we were playing,” said Railers President Mike Myers to a gathering of season ticket members Friday night. “The goal is to get people excited about our organization and get them to become members,” he added later.
So far the Railers have done a pretty good job in that area, with nearly 780 ticket deposits already having been signed up. That number puts the Railers in the middle of the pack of current ECHL teams, and is significantly more than the number of season tickets the Worcester Sharks had in their final year.
“It’s an incredible value.” Director of Railers HC Memberships Mike Fisher said to 210Sports. “In a market this size and in a facility this good our prices are really a great deal. And our payment plan makes it even more affordable”. (Fisher then went on to explain the details, but it’s easier to just link to the Railers membership page and mention if you have questions you can reach Mike via email at MikeF@RailersHC.com)
The Railers are also doing well in terms of corporate sponsorships, having over $900,000 in commitments already lined up. Word is Railers owner Cliff Rucker is batting almost 100% when he’s approached some of Worcester’s largest businesses looking for sponsorship dollars. The reviews of Rucker’s keynote address at the Game Changers Business Conference & Expo hosted by Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce make this writer wonder who could possibly turn him down.
One person who is going to have a busy few months is head coach and GM Jamie Russell, whose duties include not only getting an affiliation with an NHL organization but also putting together a roster of players that the Railers will own the contractual rights to. Doing that means a lot of scouting, and as of the start of last weekend he’d already seen more than a handful of pro-prospects tourney hockey games and several NCAA contests.
During the “Skate to the Date” event held last Friday to mark the beginning of the one year countdown to opening night Russell spoke to a gathering of Railers HC members about several topics and held a Q&A session afterwards. Worcester Magazine had it live on Facebook, and you can watch their video of the address right here.
To many fans the most important thing said was Russell’s reply to the question of if he was going to guarantee a championship (Kelly Cup) in the Railers first season. Russell didn’t dodge the question and gave the best answer anyone could hope for. “Holy Smokes, building an expansion team from scratch you want me to guarantee a championship…I won’t guarantee a championship. I’ll guarantee you’ll be proud to walk into the building and see the Railers play every day”.
The comment drew some of the loudest applause of the night. As it should have.
Earlier in that event Myers once again put forward the type of relationship he wants Railers HC to have with its fans. “We are not a retread of what was here before, whether it was the IceCats or the Sharks.” he began. “We definitely want to bring all the good that those organizations brought and we will not deny our history. I believe deeply in our hockey history, and we want to take it to the next level. We want to embrace what was great and want to make it even better. We want Worcester to be the place you want to be.”
He concluded with, “This team is about Worcester.”
Myers has been very up front with his belief that for the Railers to be successful they need to match the emotional attachment fans had with the IceCats with the business sense San Jose used with the Worcester Sharks. Fans are already responding positively to the Railers trying to capture the attachment fans had to the IceCats. Many say that they always considered the IceCats “their team”, but for the most part they didn’t have that sort of emotional attachment with the WorSharks.
The WorSharks never made a serious attempt early on to try to capitalize on the attachment fans had to the IceCats because of the serious business issues the IceCats had in the city before being moved to Peoria, and instead distanced themselves from the city’s first AHL franchise in an attempt to better connect with Worcester’s business community. In hindsight that was a mistake, and it’s one that the Railers decided early on they wouldn’t repeat.
On Friday I tweeted out this posting was going to be a “season preview” for the Railers, as even without a team on the ice there was still a lot going on for them during the 2016-17 season. But Rucker pretty much covered the entirety of what should be posted in one sentence, spoken to a few gathered fans on the DCU Center concourse Friday night.
“We’re hopefully going to keep doing the right things to make this a success, win a few hockey games, and bring a championship to Worcester.”
A great line, but it makes for way too short of a blog post.