Caggiano makes more than a short-term commitment

February 20, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

One of the things that fuels incessant speculation about AHL hockey being doomed in Baltimore is the city's always below-league-average fan turnout since the early 1970s. After a strong start by the Baltimore Clippers in 1962, the team was averaging barely 3,000 per game a decade later. The Clippers suspended operations in 1975, then folded two years later.

The average turnout for the Baltimore Skipjacks over their 11 seasons (1982-93) was 3,356. In their inaugural season, the Bandits drew 3,600 per game and, this season, after 30 home games, that number is down to 3,156, even though 7,298 showed up Saturday for a combined game and glitzy cheerleader promotion.

All the while, costs of operating a club have increased dramatically and, when present owner Mike Caggiano took over late last season, he inherited some of the debts and all of the ill will left by previous owners Bob Teck and Alan Gertner, known in some circles as "Frick and Frack."

Small wonder whenever a city thinks about getting into the hockey business and the AHL looks to expand or solidify to meet its feeder-system role for the NHL, both look at the situation in Baltimore and wonder how long management is going to hang in and absorb guaranteed losses.

The franchise fee to get into the AHL just shot up to $2 million, so cities aspiring to join up would just as soon buy an existing franchise at a bargain price. The AHL will expand to 19 teams in the fall, Lowell (Mass.) joining the cast with the old Moncton franchise. The Pittsburgh Penguins hold an AHL franchise formerly held by Cornwall.

First, New Haven, Conn., then Fayetteville, N.C., and, lately, Cincinnati have approached Caggiano about selling his franchise to them. Despite losses and the disappointment of getting no help or encouragement from Baltimore County to construct a medium-sized arena in Halethorpe, the owner says he isn't about to give up the ghost. At least not yet.

"We've still got more than a quarter of the season to play and then there's the playoffs. Let's see what happens," he said.

Caggiano is proving he's not in hockey on a short-term basis, having applied for entry into the East Coast Hockey League with the intention of playing in Upper Marlboro. Among the startup costs at the Show Place Arena will be about $700,000 for a rink and ice-making system.

Around the league

Here's a quickie quiz: What AHL team(s) did Scotty Bowman, who last weekend recorded his 1,000th victory behind the bench in the NHL, coach?

Time's up. Amazingly, none.

Bowman jumped right in with the NHL-expansion St. Louis Blues in 1967. The milestone recalls a line uttered by one of Montreal's all-time top defensemen, Larry Robinson, when Bowman left the Canadiens after eight successful seasons (419-110-105) in 1979. Asked his thoughts on the coach who had led the Habs to five Stanley Cups during his tenure, the team captain replied: "We should have won two more."

The longest scoring streak in the AHL this season belongs to Brian Wiseman of the St. John's Maple Leafs, who had 12 goals and 22 assists during a stretch of 19 games.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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