After a weekend which saw Manchester fall to home defeats against Belfast and Cardiff , I have elected to take a different approach to the weekly round-up. So rather than run through the goals and play-by-play, I will look to marry up the poor on-ice performance and worrying drop-off in attendances. Who would’ve thought the last seasons fairytale story would be in tatters before the turn of the year?
The 2017/8 season in Altrincham was something of a minor miracle, as the low-budget Manchester Storm defied the odds and pushed the eventual winners, Cardiff Devils, most of the way. A second place finish, in the league, and an outstanding 20-5-3 home record saw multiple sell-out crowds as tickets began to fly-out the doors. In 2016/7, the Storm had average attendance of 1,352 and by the end of Finnerty’s first year the franchise appeared to be growing dramatically, with match night attendances up by 18.5% to 1,592. However, these numbers need closer analysis, especially when you consider the current average attendance is supposedly 1,342 and the two latest matches, against the league’s best talent, only drew in an average of 1,200.
The reason for the regression in attendance goes well beyond the poor on-ice performances, to best illustrate this lets take a look at the early season attendance figures (when the factor of poor performance cannot be accounted for) in league matches only:
09/09 vs Nottingham: 1,611
16/09 vs Glasgow: 1,264
29/09 vs Milton Keynes: 1,333
07/10 vs Glasgow: 1,267
13/10 vs Coventry: 1,370
First five game average: 1,369
The average above demonstrates the numbers haven’t just dipped in recent weeks, they have never matched last years level at any point, home opener aside. However, in recent weeks numbers have reduce again, this time by the expected minimum of 1,200. Now I am not for one minute claiming to be an accountant or financial advisor, but these sort of numbers surely cannot be covering the running costs. When you consider the expenditure on player/staff wages, transportation, ice hire, accommodation, car leases and equipment. The former tenants in Altrincham, Manchester Phoenix, famously published the weekly costs associated with running an ice hockey team. Despite some of the numbers in the document being massively exaggerated, it provided the insight into the expense of what was only a semi-professional outfit. Whilst, Manchester Storm are currently running a professional team out of the same rink. A rink which has the worst site-lines in the league and facilities that appear to be in terminal decline. Whatever the reason behind this deterioration, it needs addressing quickly for the longevity of the team and the rink. Furthermore, the drawn-out development of Altrincham’s leisure district has evidently had an impact on the rink, as the Altair project originally promised a brand-new rink which has now all but evaporated.
Now to the on-ice product, currently sitting 10th and sporting an overall record of 10-14-3, Finnerty’s men have had a tumultuous start to the campaign. Although, similar to last year, Storm have fared much better at home with 19 of their 23 total points than on the road. However, dissimilar to last year, this team is lacking a clearly defined identity, which comes as a surprise to me, especially considering former NHLer Dane Byers was the natural successive of the now retired Jay Rosehill. Whatever is said about Rosehill good or bad, one things for sure he was a high-level professional athlete and his off-ice efforts will have no doubt rubbed off on the younger players. This ‘role-model’ sort of figure was something I was expecting the senior Byers to thrive in, however his individual decline and ill-discipline has spread across the roster. Byers’ debut campaign produced 70 points (24G 46A) in 55 appearances with 107 PIM’s and saw him forge an unstoppable line with Mike Hammond and Luke Moffat. His second year in the league has so far been less successful, with 19 points (7G 12A) in 25 outings with an alarming 132 PIM’s. This level of penalty taking has plagued the Storm and largely prevented them from climbing up the standings, as penalty after penalty has left them handicapped for large periods of games. If you tally Byers, Springer, Bakker and Ruopp’s PIM’s (391) this season they would rank joint 5th overall in terms of team totals.
The dark cloud looming over the Altrincham based franchise will have been acknowledged by the management and hopefully by the players, most notably Dane Byers. The players Finnerty put his trust in, i.e. the resignings and academic players, need to step-up and this must start with Byers. Finnerty currently looks like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and needs some urgent support! So grab your friend, partner, workmate or anyone else you know and get them down to the Shelter. The club also has to do more, but this isn’t the correct outlet to vent those frustrations, but lets try and get the Shelter rocking again! After all, the majority of the fanbase currently align themselves with the old school brand off hockey…