And so it begins, but it has started a little early.
A story reported by the Niagara Falls Review suggesting Chatham is wooing the Niagara IceDogs is only the start of a flood of similar reports that will increase in intensity as the IceDogs approach the end of their five-year lease at Jack Gatecliff Arena and there’s no concrete news on a new spectator facility for St. Catharines.
The news doesn’t do the IceDogs any favours, considering the team spent its first season and a half in St. Catharines fighting the perception the city was a stopover on the road to a more lucrative destination.
“I’d rather not see it because I don’t want people to think we would even consider it. Lots of communities are always talking about it, but I just want everyone to know we’re happy and we’re not going anywhere,” owner Bill Burke said.
He has no idea how the Chatham interest came to be reported in the Niagara Falls Review, although, this reporter and others in the know could make a pretty educated guess.
“I was asked about it last week. The rumour has been out there for awhile and I guess it has finally come to a head,” Burke said.
Burke says he hasn’t been approached by anyone asking if the team was interested in relocating.
“No it’s all rumours. There was ongoing interest from North Bay, but that was a long time ago and I haven’t spoken to anyone recently. There’s rumours of Burlington, there’s rumours of Brantford and I hear the Milton IceDogs, but I haven’t spoken to anyone. Any time anyone gets a new rink, people assume we’re going to a new rink.”
Burke agrees the longer the team gets into the lease without a new facility on the horizon, the more intense the rumours will become.
“I did mention and I do know the guy from Chatham and a lot of people are following what is going on. But it’s just a matter of time before we get something worked out here.”
Burke has been happy with the team’s attendance this season and the team is 152 tickets sold ahead of last season. Niagara has sold out 20 per cent of its 30 home games and one-third of the games have drawn more than 3,000 fans.
“There’s a nice loyal base and it’s good entertainment. And for the most part, the guys work so hard, it has been a fun game to be at,” Burke said.
No one was more relieved that Marco Insam after the overage forward potted a pair of goals in a 5-1 victory at Peterborough last Thursday.
The two-pack by the native of Selva Gardena, Italy, ended an offensive drought that saw him go 18 games without recording a point.
“It was nice and it was a huge game against Peterborough so it was good,” the 6-foot-1, 211-pounder said.
Despite the long scoring drought, Insam, who had 23 goals last year compared to eight this season, wasn’t putting any extra pressure on himself to find the back of the net.
“I try not to worry about that. I try to play hard every single game and work hard trying to make the playoffs. It will pay off after awhile,” he said.
And even though his offensive numbers have plummeted, Niagara’s coaching staff has been impressed with the strides Insam has made to become a more complete player.
“I’ve tried to improve every single game and we have a good coaching staff that always helps you out. Playing well defensively is a big part of the game.”
The 20-year-old is focused on Niagara’s playoff drive and won’t think about his hockey future until the season ends. He has had a few pro offers, but is not ruling out playing Canadian university hockey.
“I want to keep the options open for everything,” he said.
On the horizon in mid-April is a tryout for Italy’s team at the world championships.
“It will be a good challenge, obviously, trying out against older players that have played in Italy. I made the team when I was 18 so hopefully I can work hard and show the Italian coach I can play at that level.”