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They're ready for the next level of hockey in Loveland

Adrian Dater Avatar
May 2, 2018

LOVELAND – Dressed in blue jeans and an open-button flannel shirt exposing a casual tee underneath, Martin Lind doesn’t look like your typical hockey team owner. As the principal owner of the Colorado Eagles puts it, “I don’t like coming to hockey games in a tie.”

That allows him to fit in just fine with his Eagles customers. Despite a booming local economy growing more diverse by the month, this is still primarily a working class, agrarian community at heart, more John Deere than Ruth’s Chris.

There is actually a food stand inside the Budweiser Events Center that sells Maine lobster rolls for $15, but most of the concession business on a recent night seemed to be for the burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and $2.50 16-ounce Busch Lights (for that price up until game time, that is).

And, despite a soon-to-happen move up to the bigger leagues as the American Hockey League affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche – with a higher average ticket price that comes with it – Lind promises to keep intact the working-class soul of this franchise that has played to sold-out, adoring crowds for the past 15 years.

“These fans that have been supporting us for 15 years, we’re not gonna chase ’em away with high ticket prices,” said Lind, a Windsor native who made his bones in real estate development as the CEO of Water Valley, Inc. “But the AHL puts hockey into a concrete foundation in Northern Colorado. It’s never going anywhere. It gives us the stability that all the other minor league never can really guarantee or provide. It’s here to stay now.”

The Eagles, currently in the second round of the ECHL playoffs, have been a success from Day 1 in Loveland, starting as a Central Hockey League franchise in 2003. They won a championship in their second season and have won two other titles since, including the ECHL’s Kelly Cup last year. The Eagles have yet to have a losing season in their history, but they are now inheriting an Avalanche AHL franchise that currently has the longest playoff drought of any league team, at seven years.

Several Eagles players went on to call the Loveland area their home after their playing days were over, including head coach Aaron Schneekloth and assistant Ryan Tobler. Whether they remain in their current jobs past this season is in question, however. Essentially, their new boss is Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, who chose not to retain the services of the Avs’ most recent AHL coach, Eric Veilleux.

“Our coaches won the Kelly Cup last year and we’re making a run on the playoffs right now. The Avalanche recognizes the youth of our coaches with the youth of their organization. There’s no guarantees, but performance is performance, I don’t care what you say,” Lind said. “We’ve got outstanding coaches that are rooted deep into this community already as young men. It’s Joe Sakic’s call. You’ve got to honor respect the opinion of a Hall of Famer and two-time Cup champion captain. You’ve just got to trust that Joe will make the right call. I’m hoping that it’s these guys (Schneekloth and Tobler), but I don’t know, it’s Joe’s call.”

Some players on the Eagles right now, such as defenseman Nicolas Meloche and forward Julien Nantel, are Avalanche draft picks and figure to be back in Loveland next season. Most of the current Eagles roster, however, will not. The Avs still have yet to name a new ECHL affiliate, but when they do, that’s where many on the current Eagles roster will transfer.

Otherwise, Eagles fans are likely to see many of the group that formed the San Antonio Rampage this past season. They are likely to see a higher quality of hockey, from players that figure to come and go from the Avalanche as needs arise. That figures to make latching on to local favorites harder for fans and the Bud Center is likely to see more hardcore Avs fans who make the drive up to Loveland to see their top minor-pro prospects. But some longtime Eagles fans don’t seem to be worried about any loss of identity to the bigger city folk, nor of shelling out a few more bucks to see their team.

Eagles fans shouldn’t get much of a shock to their wallets, at least at the start of their new marriage to the AHL. The Eagles have already announced that season-ticket holders that paid in advance through 2019 at ECHL prices will have those prices honored. On average, the Eagles say, prices are only expected to rise about three dollars per ticket in 2018-19.

For the Avalanche, having their top minor-pro team just an hour from the Pepsi Center figures to be a real boon. No more will the team have to scramble to fly players in from far-flung locales when they’re needed. The team’s previous AHL affiliates were in cities such as Cornwall, Ontario, Hershey Pa., Lowell Mass., Cleveland and San Antonio. Avs coaches and management will be able to see top prospects in person on a much more regular basis, and the two franchises are expected to do a lot of cross-promotion. Buy a season ticket to the Eagles, and you’re likely to get a free ticket or two to an Avs game, and vice-versa. Also, Lind said, the Eagles will host at least one preseason Avs game at the Bud Center starting this fall.

“We’re calling I-25 the “Hockey Highway.” We’re already starting to brand it. Our fans are excited, the community is excited,” Lind said. “The Avs have treated us like absolute gold-plated kings. It’s one of the classiest, most well-run organizations that I’ve ever been around. And the cool thing is, we’re different markets. Northern Colorado is its own market. You couldn’t find a better scenario in professional hockey.”

One part of the Eagles’ identity that won’t change: the team’s name and uniform will stay the same, Lind said. Lind will remain the team’s principal owner. He said the Eagles will be the only Pacific Division AHL team that will remain independently owned, apart from their NHL affiliate.

“It’s just exciting,” Lind said. “I’m super-optimistic that this whole thing is going to be a perfect Cinderella story.”


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