The Alaska Aces have conducted yet another long march through the ECHL's playoffs -- they've reached the Kelly Cup Finals for the third time in the last six hockey seasons -- yet, by comparison to the club's two most recent deep postseason runs, attendance has flagged.
In their three home games at Sullivan Arena in the Western Conference finals against Bakersfield, the Aces averaged announced crowds of 4,203 in an arena that seats 6,399 for hockey. When they won the franchise's second Kelly Cup in 2011, they averaged 4,756 fans for two home dates in the conference finals. And in 2009, they averaged 5,176 fans for two home games in the conference finals.
The drop from 2009's average in the conference finals to this season's marked a decline of 18.8 percent.
And it's not as if that fall-off was reflected in the club's respective regular-season average attendances in 2008-09 and 2013-14. The Aces averaged 4,682 fans in 2009 and 4,619 per home game this season, a negligible drop of 1.35 percent.
Terry Parks, the team's managing member and co-owner, said the club has spent more than ever on advertising in these playoffs. Granted, Anchorage has enjoyed unseasonably warm weather during many of the playoff dates to this point -- the Aces entertain the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 1 of the Finals on Friday night -- but Parks said he's as puzzled as anyone about relatively modest attendance.
"We were just having that discussion here in the office,'' he said Thursday. "I don't know. I wish I knew.''
The last time the Aces needed to win three playoff rounds to reach the Finals, in 2009, they averaged 5,093 fans in six home games in that stretch. In seven home games through three rounds this spring -- six of which fell on either a Friday or Saturday, traditionally the best nights for attendance -- they have averaged 4,048 fans per game.
Parks wonders if there is fan fatigue with the club's success. The Aces have won four consecutive Brabham Cups as the ECHL's regular-season champions -- no other team has won consecutive Brabhams in the league's 26-season history. And Alaska's four Finals appearances in 11 seasons on the circuit -- the Aces won their first Kelly Cup in 2006 -- are the most all-time.
In their previous two trips to the Finals, the Aces sold out all six of their home games, averaging 6,549 fans per game. That's standing-room-only territory.
Parks said the Aces do not anticipate a sellout Friday, based on the roughly 3,300 tickets sold as of early Thursday afternoon, expected sales of 600 to 700 tickets Friday and perhaps a few hundred walk-up customers at the arena box office at game time.
The Finals traditionally employ a 2-3-2 format in the best-of-7 series -- the first two home games for the higher seed, the next three for the lower, and the last two for the higher seed.
But these Finals will use an unusual 3-3-1 format, with Game 2 Saturday at Sullivan Arena and Game 3 there Monday before the series heads to Cincinnati for three games at U.S. Bank Arena beginning Friday, June 6.
Parks said the format stems from rink availability issues at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati and other considerations.
The WWE Smackdown wrestling show is set for Tuesday, June 3, at U.S. Bank Arena, and a Kelly Cup game Wednesday, June 4, would compete with the Cincinnati Reds, who have scheduled Aroldis Chapman Bobblehead Night that evening at Great American Ball Park, which is adjacent to U.S. Bank Arena.
Parks isn't complaining. The Aces get three guaranteed home games in the series. When they won the Cup in 2011 and 2006, both in five-game triumphs, they only enjoyed two home games in each Finals.
Leave past in the past
If you're curious what those two exhibition games the Alaska Aces and Cincinnati Cyclones played in October tell us about their upcoming showdown for the ECHL's Kelly Cup, there's a short, easy answer: Next to nothing.
Those were preseason games, and that means:
There were a bunch of dudes playing who aren't even in the picture now. For instance, the Aces used a combined 25 players in the two games, and 13 of those guys, including both goaltenders (Mark Guggenberger and Laurent Brossoit) aren't even on the playoff roster. (We hardly knew ya, Casey Mignone).
Also, a bunch of guys on both sides likely played minutes they don't currently log, particularly on special teams.
And Aces coach Rob Murray and Cyclones coach Ben Simon were trying to get a handle on bubble guys when it came to finalizing rosters, so it wasn't like they were in full Scotty Bowman mode and playing the line-matching game.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Cyclones skaters who have accounted for 51.8 percent of the club's playoff goals (29 of 56) did not play in either of those exhibitions.
And Aces who have delivered 43.4 percent of their team's playoff goals (23 of 53) likewise did not play in those games.
Shuffling the deck
Aces captain Nick Mazzolini enters the Finals riding a four-game point streak in which he has generated 5-5--10 totals.
Alaska defenseman John Ramage likewise owns a four-game point streak, contributing 2-3--5 totals. His defensive partner, Kane Lafranchise, has points in three straight games, with 1-5--6 totals.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog
By DOYLE WOODY