Start of Flames era has Glens Falls buzzing

by Zach Dooley || AHL On The Beat Archive

Glens Falls, N.Y., is a hockey town. You hear it everywhere you go in the city.

Whether you’re checking a book out of the Crandall Library, having a beer over at Davidson Brothers or even just walking around on Glen Street, you hear it everywhere. Glens Falls is a hockey town.

From the first day of Adirondack Flames training camp, news cameras and fans flocked to the Civic Center and the aura around the Flames was different than in years past with other teams in the area. To see hundreds of fans in the building for a practice took the Flames’ coaching staff aback.

“I loved it; I think it’s great,” Adirondack Flames head coach Ryan Huska said of the fan turnout after the first day of training camp. “I was actually a little bit surprised. I didn’t think there would be really anybody here. But I think it goes to show the type of people that are around here. They’re passionate about their hockey and their hockey team and we want to do a good of creating that excitement within the community.”

Two weeks later, as 5,078 fans packed into the Glens Falls Civic Center for the Adirondack Flames’ home opener on Oct. 11 — which put the building at 106 percent capacity — that sentiment was felt big time. Adirondack’s loss on the ice that night took a back seat to the fanfare around the game. Hockey was home in Glens Falls.

“[The home opener] was an opportunity for all this energy to come into the building and express itself,” Adirondack Flames president Brian Petrovek said. “I think it was an opportunity for these fans to get together again and finally realize all the things that they were expecting. Now they’ve got [37] more times to do it and hopefully they will do it in a way that feeds off of that energy from opening night and adds some victories to it.”

For a while, however, Glens Falls appeared to be a hockey town without a hockey team.

Flash back to last year: In a story told numerous times, the Adirondack Phantoms were set to move on to Allentown, Pa., at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, ending their five-year tenure in the area. Glens Falls looked to have reached a hockey dead end. A city with 25 years of American Hockey League history had no season number 26 in sight.

“The community was curious,” Glens Falls mayor Jack Diamond said. “Forty nights a year at the Civic Center is big to our area and there was a lot of uncertainty without a team locked in.”

The reaction that a town gives when they know their team is departing really defines them. But as many places may have faltered in the past, Glens Falls fans increased in number. As the Phantoms’ 2013-14 season came to a close, the fans in the stands seemed to only grow.

And as the calendar turned to April, the future seemed to brighten as the rumors swirled and the light at the end of the tunnel began to grow. Or perhaps it was the Flames at the end of the tunnel lighting the way.

The Calgary Flames gave the city of Glens Falls what it needed most at a time when it was desperately needed. And Glens Falls responded.

“It’s been beyond expectations,” Petrovek said. “When we came to Glens Falls, we set somewhat conservative goals for support over these first few months and the generosity of the region has exceeded that. Now what we need to do is not rest on those laurels and not take it for granted, but it’s been a pleasant surprise and one that suggests future growth.”

The Adirondack Flames have brought back a level of fervor to this town that has not been present since the Adirondack Red Wings played here from 1979-99. Many would call that era the glory days in Glens Falls, the peak of hockey in this area. The Red Wings regularly averaged crowds of over 4,000 fans, many times even over 5,000.

The tenure of the Flames is looking not to deviate from the feelings and passion that Glens Falls hockey fans felt towards the Adirondack Red Wings, but rather build on it and recapture it.

“I don’t think fans should be asked necessarily to move on, I think they should be delivered with something that takes all the good that came in the Red Wings days and add on to it,” Petrovek said. “When you’ve got a history like the heritage of Glens Falls and the Adirondack region have, you never want to lose it or move away from it, you want to add to it. This fan base is ready to do that.”

The Flames have brought a lot of new to the area. The Saturday Night is Hockey Night platform has invigorated local restaurants and bars throughout the city into Flames hockey. The Davidson Brothers Flames Pub in Heritage Hall has brought one of Glens Falls’ largest breweries inside the walls of the Civic Center. The game presentation has brought the building to new heights. At the end of the day though, it all comes back to the desire to support AHL hockey in this area.

“The fans have been craving this, the chance to support an AHL product,” Diamond said. “It certainly shows with four to five thousand people in the building. This is finally their team and they’re excited.”

The Flames have only been in town for six months but it feels as if they’ve been a part of this community for years. And as the city turns the corner from its first 25 years of AHL history, the future is bright.