SPORTS BEAT by Shane McNeil: The secret to beating the lockout blues: Quit your whining

On paper, almost every OHL team’s numbers are up in its average attendance this year– with one glaring exception.

The Ottawa 67’s have seen a decrease in their attendance since the NHL decided to skip the formality of a season.

Many media types had predicted that the NHL lockout could only help junior hockey in Canada. While teams in markets like Sudbury and Toronto have seen a spike in their attendance numbers, the 67’s are down, at least on paper.

Shawn Williams, director of business and community development for the 67’s, explains that the team’s numbers are being affected by the way they are counting attendance this year as opposed to last.

Williams says that freebie tickets for media outlets are now being given as vouchers and the multitudes of unused tickets are no longer being equated into the count, so that the attendance numbers actually reflect the amount of “rear ends in the seats.”

Hence, the attendance has dropped by an average of 100 fans per game.

When the team was pressed at the start of the season for predictions, they said that their market was different from the Senators and that there wouldn’t be much of an attendance boom.

“With the Senators not playing, people thought we’d sell out every night,” Williams explains. “We never thought that.”

Valid point, but even if you factor in those couple hundred tickets, how much of a difference could it really make? It could probably bring the team back up to par, and maybe put them the slightest bit over last year’s average crowds. For a supposedly “hockey mad” city, the biggest game in town hasn’t attracted many of the masses looking for a hockey fix.

In fairness, the 67’s have the largest OHL arena by far and draw the largest crowds by sheer numbers on a yearly basis.

Two years ago when the Senators were pushing for a birth in the Stanley Cup final, you couldn’t go anywhere in this town without the barrage of flags. There was a similar feeling before last year’s meltdown against the Maple Leafs. Pundits in town and out made a big deal about this city’s fans and what a great hockey town this really is. So, one would think that the city has a healthy hockey fan base.

So where did everyone go?

The answer is fairly simple. The 67’s are not experiencing the overflow of new fans because there aren’t any new fans to be had.

They are pulling in similar numbers because the same people are still supporting the team that this town knew in between the Senators that folded in the 1920s and the new incarnation of the team that has played here the last decade.

One can only deduce, then, that this is not a hockey town.

When the Senators were clearly the best team during the NHL regular season, the first game of the first round series against Philadelphia didn’t sell out. If the best team in the NHL can’t fill their building for the playoffs, why should we expect a junior team to be able to?

The sad truth is that there may not be NHL hockey until the beginning of the next season in October, if we’re lucky. So, instead of complaining about its absence and whining about all this “bring it back” nonsense, this city’s fans could decide to actually cash in on the good hockey that’s already being played.

Or just stay at home. Why break with tradition?