2003 - 2004
August 11, 2004
Pro hockey in Greensboro may have gotten a reprieve
A new league promising a high caliber of play is considering putting a seam in the coliseum. There are many questions, but it's an idea worth pursuing.
Don't melt the ice at the Greensboro Coliseum just yet. The reincarnated World Hockey Association is considering either the coliseum or Orlando for a league-owned franchise. If Greens-born gets the nod, it would join hockey hotbeds such as Toronto and Detroit in the upstart eight-team league.
With the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes just down the road in Raleigh the coliseum here seems an odd choice. But NHL players and owners are at loggerheads over a salary cap and the WHA is banking on a lengthy lockout shutting down play next season and beyond. It hopes a few out-of-work NHLers will defect. Filling out rosters will be minor-leaguers and promising rookies.
Greensboro emerges as a possible site because the coliseum offers major-league ice facilities and at the moment has no permanent tenant. The vacancy sign went out this summer after the minor-league Generals folded.
As a booming tourist mecca, Orlando should have the upper hand. However, negotiations there apparently hit a snag. A decision is expected Friday.
There's no doubt the Greensboro Coliseum measures up as a top hockey arena. The Hurricanes played here for two seasons awaiting completion of a permanent home in Raleigh.
Unfortunately, the 'Canes brief stay here didn't attract big-league crowds. The temporary nature of the arrangement and pricey NHL tickets translated into empty seats - a source of embarrassment, even derision. Pundits from hard-core hockey cities referred to Greensboro as "Green Acres."
The WHA undoubtedly will want assurances there won't be a repeat. Compared to NHL prices, WHA tickets in the $25-$30 range would be a bargain. Even so, fans used to paying much less to see the Generals might disagree. And league backers must be convinced out-of-towners will show up in decent numbers. That's important because with 38 home dates there will be numerous weeknight games.
It's also incumbent on the WHA, which has gotten off to a slow start, to assure fans it is more than a gimmicky NHL fill-in. Much remains to be done before the first face-off in October. Yet it is an unexpected but hopeful possibility for keeping the coliseum lights on this winter.