The Canadian Hockey League is responsible for the most prospects drafted into the NHL each and every year. It is comprised of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League.
In the past two drafts, 95 of the 211 draftees (45%) came out of the CHL. At the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the WHL had 34 representatives, followed by the OHL and United States Hockey League, both with 31. The QMJHL was just behind them, with 30 players selected.
There are 52 teams spread throughout Canada, with 8 more sprinkled in the USA. Usually it’s the teams that are located a couple hours away from any NHL teams who draw the biggest crowds, being the only source for great hockey in their respective areas.
Teams are constantly relocating and expanding in the all three leagues, meaning CHL attendance is a very significant part of having success in the league. When a team starts to fall behind, president, David Branch, begins to look for possible suitors to take over that team and generate a larger fan base, as well as more revenue.
For instance, the OHL has two teams which relocated for the 2015-16 season alone. The Belleville Bulls moved to Hamilton to become the Bulldogs. In the West, the Plymouth Whalers moved within the State of Michigan to Flint, becoming the Firebirds.
With the topic of relocation and expansion as hot as ever in the NHL right now, we’ve taken the same approach to the 60 teams of the CHL. Here are the three best, and worst, CHL attendances today.
3 Best Attended CHL Teams
Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 13,738
With Quebec being one of two cities hoping to earn an NHL franchise, look no further than the Remparts for proof of an existing fan base. The QMJHL team currently pulls in a larger crowd than four NHL teams per night, in Columbus (13,652), Arizona (13,206), the New York Islanders (13,153), and Carolina (11,378). The team was founded in 1969 and ceased its operations in 1985, winning the Memorial Cup in 1971. They then returned in 1997, going on to win another Memorial Cup in 2006. They play at the Videotron Centre, the likely home of a potential NHL franchise, which seats 18,259, the sixth largest arena in Canada.
London Knights (OHL) – 9,000
The OHL’s most prominent franchise was founded in 1968, going through some high and low points until becoming an annual force in the 21st century. They’ve had 25 players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft since 1970, and have totalled three OHL Championships since 2005, featuring a Memorial Cup in that same year. The Knights play at Budweiser Gardens, formerly the John Labatt Centre, which has 9,046 seats, 99.5% of which are filled on average each night. The Knights are well on their way to another possible championship in 2015-16.
Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 8,112
The Calgary Hitmen have a surprisingly strong attendance for a team that plays in the same city as an NHL team. Since their foundation in 1994, they have won two WHL Championships, in 1999 and 2010. It was in 2004-05, the year of the NHL lockout, that the Hitmen recorded their highest average attendance in any season, at 10,062. The Hitmen have the luxury of playing in Scotiabank Saddledome, the same arena that is home to the Flames and seats 19,289. The Hitmen have had the highest average attendance in the WHL for 14 consecutive years now.
3 Worst Attended CHL Teams
Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL) – 1,420
The Titan have significantly less fans at each game than any team in the CHL. The team has long struggled to bring in fans, and had been the center of relocation talks since 2009. However, former team owner, Leo-Guy Morrissette, sold the team to a group of 28 local investors, including several current NHLers, to keep the team in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Their average attendance has never reached 1,700 in any of the past six seasons. In an arena which only seats 3,162, there has never been tremendous potential for this franchise.
Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) – 1,752
The Drakkar, named after a viking ship, had finally begun to see success for the first time since their foundation in 1997, reaching the QMJHL Finals in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Their attendance saw an increase to nearly 2,500 in those years, but with the squad struggling again, figures have fallen off of a cliff. Like Acadie-Bathurst, Baie-Comeau plays in a small arena, with just 3,042 seats. Although they’ve been able to nearly sell out in good years, the CHL ideally wants every one of its teams to be able to host at least 5,000.
Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) – 1,904
Val D’or Foreurs translates into “Valley of Gold Drillers”, for the local mining and exploration work. The team was founded in 1993, but have had trouble attracting a solid fan base, especially over the past six years. Their attendance has actually seen a 236 fan increase (14.2%) since last season, but they still remain one of the basement dwellers in CHL attendance. Playing at the Centre Air Creebec, which has a capacity of 3,504, the Foreurs have won QMJHL Championships in 1997-98, 2000-01, and 2013-14.
The bad news here is that the bottom eight teams in CHL attendance are all from the QMJHL. Although the ‘Q’ also features the Remparts, who blow every other team out of the water in terms of attendance, the league as a whole is simply not at the same level as the OHL and WHL. Ideally, the CHL would see consistency in attendance across all of Canada, but it seems that will never be the case. And with the NHL potentially expanding into Quebec within the next few years, the Remparts numbers may see a significant decrease as well, as the NHL franchise steals the limelight.
As for the Ontario and Western leagues, there isn’t any specific team which is struggling to bring in fans. Even the Flint Firebirds, in their inaugural season, are bringing in over 3,000 fans a night. For the most part, the American franchises are also pulling in consistently promising crowds. Numbers that should certainly take away any thoughts of possible relocation.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.