Minor League city with Major League Heart

How to keep hockey alive in an AHL city

Situated roughly 200 miles north east of Raleigh (home of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes) and roughly 200 miles south east of Washington DC (home of the NHL's Washington Capitals) is the bustling, City of Norfolk in Virginia. With roughly 246 thousand residents (depending upon military fluctuations) in the city and roughly 447 thousand residents in neighboring Virginia Beach (again depending on military fluctuation) the Norfolk Admirals are an AHL team nestled amid a nearly 700 thousand strong fan base. The Norfolk Admirals, previously the ECHL Hampton Roads Admirals, have always been well loved in our area. To understand how a minor league hockey team can survive, and grow, in the south, without an NHL team being very close, you have to understand the demographic of the area.

Norfolk is part of the 7 cities, which also includes Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Newport News, and Hampton. These cities combine for just over 1.427 million people all less than 1 hour away from the Scope Arena, home of the Norfolk Admirals. The area is well defined as the largest military hub in the US, and home to the largest US Naval base in the world. That's not too shabby when you think about it. Now none of this has anything to do with hockey, until you start looking deeper. With military comes transfers, we have fans from all over the US, and the world here. The US Navy has had a partnership with the British Navy over the last few years which has imported groups of foreigners into the area. The military also brings in members from around the US to this area; many of whom may be hockey fans from their hometown. It is not uncommon to see a variety of jerseys splashed in the stands representing a variety of NHL teams.

This area is also a large family and community oriented area. Ticket prices are comparable to a family movie night, in some cases less expensive, to those of the theaters. Going to a hockey game also provides time for families to bond and experience emotional highs and lows of living vicariously through our extended family on the ice. That is how we view our players, part of our local family. Local businesses love to get involved with events and activities surrounding the team. Some support the team through monetary means while others donate nice gifts as prizes for fan competitions during the games. We have trivia questions, "Chuck a Puck" (one of my favs), pick the winner, raffles, and many other alternating events which include fan participation. The team runs a variety of special events from military appreciation night, law enforcement night, post game skates with the players, and more adding to the "family" atmosphere. Attending a game in Norfolk isn't just go, watch, cheer, drive home. Attending a Norfolk Admirals game is an event to remember each time you visit the Scope Arena there will be a memory left with you. You may even leave with new friends you never thought you would make.

In addition to a family friendly environment, the team has many outreach programs. Annual events include "Pink the Rink" for Susan G Komen for the Cure, "Toy Toss" to support local children's shelters and hospitals, and even a jersey auction to support MDA. Admirals Angels is a program which provides unused season tickets to groups including Veterans, disabled fans, and disadvantaged children. It is not uncommon to see players visiting local organizations and spending time with participants in hospitals, adult care centers, and anywhere you may find children. Youth hockey players, mite and squirt level, in the area also have the opportunity to scrimmage during intermission at the games. There's also a sweet kid's club for fans 12 years of age and younger.

This year's home opener started with an emotional video with images of our wonderful past. We were reminded of the blood, sweat, tears, heartache, pain, and extreme joy which has been experienced and shared within our home. The faces of Admirals past who have brought us awards and memories over the years. We were reminded how much we love our team and the sport of hockey, through struggles and triumphs. Opening night giveaways included 3,000 magnetic schedules given to fans upon entering the arena. On the way out the door, 3,000 fans went home carrying a loaf of Sara Lee bread, just another way area business gets involved with local families. The Admirals reported roughly 4,500 fans in the arena for the opener.

With so much to offer, it's becomes increasingly difficult to not be a fan of our hometown team. The team has built an empire in the area which supports or touches every aspect of the community imaginable. This team has become a pillar of strength and a common bond for all of those who live in the area. Children have been provided with role models, parents find comfort in knowing that there are safe activities in the area for their family to attend, local businesses partner together in support of this team which brightens our star on the map. We aren't in Canada, but our local love of hockey is just as strong as in the "Great White North".

The team was added to the AHL beginning in the 2000-2001 season as an affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. This affiliation lasted 7 seasons and yielded 8 former Admirals who hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup in June 2013. Following the 2006-2007 season, the Admirals began their new affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After 5 years, the Lightning decided to dissolve their affiliation with the Admirals, despite the Admirals winning the Calder Cup that year. It didn't take long for the Admirals to announce their 5 year contract with the Anaheim Ducks. To date 24 former Admirals (staff and players) have their names engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup in 32 places. The Scope Arena has housed a hockey team since the 1971-1972 season and have been a part of the AHL, SHL, NEHL, and the ECHL. This year marks 25 years since the Admirals took over as the house team and it doesn't look like that will be changing anytime soon. Thank you Anaheim, for believing in us to help prepare your youngsters for the NHL.

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