Today, April 29, hits exactly one year since the final River Rats game in Albany. How fast the time has gone since the last time we saw Rowdy the Rat on the Times Union Center ice. What started out as a really good farewell playoff run ended in a thud at the hands of the eventual Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. After sweeping Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the East Division semifinals (a feat I still have no idea how the Rats pulled it off considering Albany’s history against the Penguins), the Rats ended up being swept by Hershey. But it wasn’t without a fight…3 out of the 4 games went to overtime, Game 2 in Hershey was the only time the Rats weren’t even close.
At the time of the last game, the Devil rumors were still quite rampant, more or less it was an official move despite no announcements from the New Jersey brass or anyone in Lowell. I (and a few others) were basically under the impression that this was it for AHL hockey in the Capital Region for who knows when. When Mathieu Perreault scored the game winner on Justin Peters in overtime, everything just seemed to stop. I watched the Bears celebrate in the corner, the center ice handshake, and finally the Rats raising their sticks to the crowd. Then we all headed outside by the back doors of the arena to say our tearful goodbyes to the team as most were headed to Charlotte, others to Carolina, and some to points unknown.
As the calendar turned to May, it was the same story out of the Devils as to when the move would be made official…once a week the story would be “it’ll be another week before the announcement”, then a week later repeat. Meanwhile other teams were announcing guaranteed dates for the 10-11 season and I sat back still waiting. I even considered looking at ticket packs in Adirondack and Springfield, the two closest AHL cities to here. I also figured I’d travel to my usual AHL stops (Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre, Syracuse), particularly when the Checkers would be there. While the wait got more and more impatient, an old friend popped up just across the river. Rowdy the Rat found a new home, being officially “adopted” by the Tri-City Valleycats baseball team to join their long list of mascots (2 cats, a reindeer, an enviromentally friendly green dragon, three mayors, an evil bunny) for the 2010 season. Finally around the second week of June, a news break…I found an article in the Lowell Sun about what I called the worst kept secret ever. A reporter went to the Tsongas Arena and came across movers taking furniture out of the Devils team offices. When asked where they were headed, one mover said “Albany.” The next day, the move finally became official and the Albany Devils were born.
Now that the first regular season has ended…well it’s pretty obvious who had the better year. The Checkers are currently in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs after delivering some much needed karma to the Bears in the first round, ending their season on an overtime goal. They were also successful in helping my friends the Bennett family achieve their goal of moving to North Carolina to be close to the team and getting better medical care for Zach (aka Bug), with several fund raisers over the course of the season. Meanwhile…well you know the story by now. The Devils didn’t get off to a good start publicity wise and playing wise, and basically spent the entire season playing catchup. The team is getting better slowly off the ice, but having the on ice product to put it all together isn’t there just yet. Next year could be a different story…or otherwise the Checkers will still have a bigger fan base than the team that replaced them.