The Abbotsford Heat drew capacity crowds of 7

Heat attendance on a hot streak

For two electric evenings, the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre was the epicentre of pro hockey in Canada.



The Abbotsford Heat’s struggles to fill the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre have been well-documented, but for two electric evenings, the building was the epicentre of pro hockey in Canada.

A pair of games against an Oklahoma City Barons squad loaded with up-and-coming NHL stars drew capacity crowds of 7,046 on both Friday and Saturday, with hockey-starved fans flocking from far and wide to get their fix during the NHL lockout.

“You’re going through withdrawal, right?” explained Earl Petkau, who flew in from Edmonton to watch the Oilers’ AHL affiliate. “All the young guns are here (in Abbotsford), so it was a perfect opportunity.”

Without a doubt, the NHL lockout has been a boon to the Heat.

The weekend games marked the first time in franchise history that they’ve sold out against an opponent other than the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate (the Manitoba Moose in 2009/10 and 2010/11, and the Chicago Wolves the past two seasons).

It’s also just the second time the Heat have sold out back-to-back games – the AESC was filled to capacity for both nights of a Jan. 12-13, 2010 doubleheader vs. the Moose.

Dave Galarneau and Terry Devries, who drove from Edmonton for the weekend games, used the words “painful” and “terrible” to describe an NHL-less winter.

“The exciting thing about this was, it’s the closest AHL outpost for thousands of miles,” Devries noted. “Abbotsford’s a great town anyway, so this was an easy decision. Win, lose or draw, it was worth it.”

On the social media site Twitter, the team’s hashtag #AHLHeat was trending worldwide during the Heat’s 4-0 win on Friday. Saturday’s game – a 2-1 overtime triumph for the Barons – was televised coast-to-coast on Sportsnet.

“We’ve benefitted a lot,” Heat president Ryan Walter said Saturday, reflecting on the lockout. “It’s given us that momentum, put us over the top with some fans.

“We expose them to our product, and people come back. We’re very thankful about that.”

The City of Abbotsford paid the Heat a total of $3.58 million to cover financial shortfalls during their first three seasons in town – a condition of the 10-year supply fee agreement to play out of the AESC, which guarantees the team an annual break-even budget of $5.7 million.

The Heat were 29th out of 30 AHL teams in attendance last season, drawing 3,545 fans per game according to league stats. They’re currently averaging 5,109, good for 16th overall, though it’s worth noting that four of their eight home games have been high-profile dates with the Wolves and the Barons.

Now, the Heat’s challenge is to fashion the momentum from those outliers into a foundation for long-term health.

“It gives us a chance to build our business,” Walter said.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Highway One to be widened east to 264th Street in Langley

The $235 million project includes upgrades to overpasses and a rail bridge

Three Langley communities included in 30 kilometre Canada Day parade route

The expanded parade is being organized by a sub-committee of the Aldergrove Fair.

U.S. inn owner, charged with smuggling people into Canada, granted bail

Robert Joseph Boule ordered to turn away anyone indicating a plan to enter Canada illegally

Suspect stole lingerie in Langley heist

Langley RCMP is also looking for someone who bought $6,000 in goods with a stolen credit card

Skate Jam and RCMP basketball challenge highlight Langley Youth Week

Events from athletics to a movie night are planned for May 1-7 in the Township

VIDEO: Killer whales hunt for seals in Vancouver harbour

Bigg’s killer whales feed on marine mammals like seals, sea lions, dolphins and even other whales

VIDEO: B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Struggling B.C. adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Woman, 60, charged in connection to thefts at YVR

RCMP believe the foreign national is part of a larger organized theft group

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Worst 10 bus routes in Metro Vancouver for rider complaints

TransLink releases list, with Route 319 at the top

Mayors, First Nations chiefs, urge ‘immediate action’ on new Massey crossing

Joint letter asks province to move up timeline, consider only eight-lane tunnel options

Bus driver assault in Vancouver once again raises safety concerns

A 49-year-old Surrey man was released on a promise to appear in court. No charge has been laid

Most Read