STATE OF THE FEDERAL: They Lost the Nationals…Now What? Doom!

In a shocking twist, the Federal Hockey League – hockey’s answer to Minor League…er, independent league… no, wait, remember that Amarillo all-online Baseball team? Yeah, that -has lost one of the few non-Soskin (Carolina, Port Huron, Danville; ironically the competitive attendance teams!) teams that it had remaining in it’s bittersweet six-team saloon.

Cornwall Nationals, indirectly billed as the “new-direction of the FHL” (this means North, or Canadian for those from outside the Northeast/Midwest), have folded just over 30 games into their second season, or roughly with two months to go. The second-best team in the FHL at 18-13, this draws serious ire for a league already battling…frankly itself to stay alive.

Or, more-beautifully put by the Beat Written Newspaper of the former-Nationals “Nats are Dead“. Apathetic and perfect.

I personally thought Cornwall’s promotions, and how they were run was adequate, all things considered for a Federal Hockey League team. My measuring stick for anything above is, of course, the Carolina Thunderbirds. I believe Scott Brand and the Thunderbirds’ Front Office actually does a great job, and the attendance numbers speak for themselves (even though the record certainly does not.) However, you can have all the effort you want, but, you need money to make the machine work, and Cornwall was not making that.

This was hinted at months ago when the Nationals head coach just…left. Skeptics and speculative types immediately pointed to money and HEY HEY look where we are now.

This could very well be a death blow to the FHL. Losing teams towards/at the end of the season is nothing new, but a team like Cornwall is bad. We’ll talk more about that later.

Let’s talk about retention…To quote the Jazz crooner Fats Waller “If you gotta ask, you ain’t got it.” From here, teams crossed out didn’t last past that season…

In 2010, the league started off with six teams: New York Aviators, Cape Cod Barons, Rome Frenzy, 1000 Islands Privateers, Akwesasne Warriors, and the long-time leaders of the league…the mighty Danbury Titans.

In 2011, the BROOKLYN Aviators, Cape Cod BLUEFINS, Delaware Federals (who literally only used the league logo), the New Jersey Outlaws (shout-out American Collegiate Hockey Association D2 Chief of Broadcasting), 1000 Islands, Akwesasne, and more familiar teams: the Titans and the first year of the Danville Dashers.

In 2012…only the Titans, the Dashers, the first-year Dayton Devils, and 1000 Islands remained.

2013…No change, except now 1000 Islands “found residence” in Watertown

2014…Dayton changes to the DEMONZ and we add Steel City Warriors and the Berkshire (no-names), though google says they were the Battalion

2015…Dayton once again changes now to the Demolition. Berlin River Drivers, who fit well in New Hampshire appear, league-darling and first year champions Port Huron Prowlers come in, and the Brewster Bulldogs find a way.

2016…Dayton is dead. LONG LIVE DAYTON PRO(?) HOCKEY. Cornwall Nationals pop up and so do the St. Clair Fighting Saints. Danbury is stronger than ever!(?) Berlin? Where’d you go?

2017…Bye St. Clair, hellooooo North Shore. The only real hope for the FHL, Carolina Thunderbirds, finally come into existence, and down goes Cornwall HALFWAY through. North Shore has compiled 858 total fans in seven home games, so… confident in saying goodbye to them.

12 Teams.

The FHL has been around for eight years, and lost 12 teams in that time. This kind of inconsistency is actually incredible. The only sensible, worthwhile owner in this entire league is – surprise surprise, the one who owns 3/5 of the league, Barry Soskin.

So what does this all mean and matter?

You cannot operate a league that is nearly only owned by one group/person. You cannot operate a professional (whether figuratively or literally) league that draws under 900 people a game for 4/5 of the league, and one over 2,200 per. A stone on top of sticks will find its way to fall through, and that’s what the FHL is now.

Cornwall was in a tough spot, playing in a town with a junior league and having massive travel expenditures, but that’s the literal actual price you pay when you take the risk of an FHL franchise tag. A winning franchise that looked like a bright spot is certainly nothing new…remember Dayton? Oops.

However, Watertown only just came back and is not doing good. North Shore is doomed. Port Huron somehow has the formula for hockey success, but not fan success. There are no legitimate future markets following Battle Creek (MI)’s dismal exhibition game show out last year, and no real prospect seeds.

The league is burning money, and their hottest investment is in the heart of Southern Professional Hockey League country…and for the sake of the Thunderbirds, I hope they get a bid. At 2,200+ fans a game and being in previously used SPHL land, it could be plausible.

I think that at the latest, by 2020 – especially if the famed UHL does make it’s fabled comeback –we will point at Cornwall as being the final nail in the sad, strange coffin of the Federal Hockey League.

The fact it’s made it this far is a miracle in itself.


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