WORCESTER, MA – The Boston Bruins announced on February 15 they would be extending their affiliation with the Atlanta Gladiators for an additional two years. The Worcester Railers HC have also announced that they’ve secured an affiliation for their inaugural season, and will announce it at the conclusion of this season.
The announcement came with confusion between Worcester and Boston hockey fans. With the return of an ECHL team to Worcester, it was assumed there has never been a better time for a Worcester team to affiliate with the Boston Bruins. Members of both communities have been calling an affiliation to happen since the days of the Worcester IceCats.
Reactions throughout social media were mixed. Fans questioned “why this would happen?” and made comments claiming that “this [decision to not affiliate] was a dumb mistake made by both parties”, while others questioned whether any other NHL affiliate would make Worcester a successful franchise.
Here’s What We Know:
H. Larue Renfroe, Owner of the Providence Bruins, owns the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA. The facility features six full-size rinks, a pro shop, and a restaurant. Many colleges in Central Massachusetts have utilized ice time at this facility, even Worcester’s past professional hockey teams, the Worcester IceCats and Sharks, had pre-season games and held practices there. Renfoe’s New England Sports Center is a thirty-minute drive from Worcester.
Cliff Rucker, Owner of the Worcester Railers HC, is currently building a 38,000 square foot facility that will house twin ice rinks in Worcester, MA. This facility, named the Worcester Ice Center, will be in direct competition with the facility that Renfoe owns. some of Renfoe’s business will leave his facility to join Rucker’s facility. Many of these tenants have announced agreements to use the Worcester Ice Center when it opens later this year.
With competition being established between the businesses of the Railers and Bruins, we can reasonably assume that the two organizations would not be interested in each other. They are business rivals.
But Wait, There’s More!
Worcester falls into both Providence and Boston’s market and this became more relevant after both AHL teams moved closer to their affiliate. Providence is able to market itself for fans to make the trip to see “future Bruins players,” and has been like that for many years. If a Worcester team becomes an affiliate of the Boston Bruins, they would take the marketing aspect away from Providence. Again, it’s all about competition and even though the Railers and the Providence Bruins aren’t in the same league, they’re competing over the same market.
Don’t Give up Hope Yet.
A future affiliation between Boston and Worcester should not be completely ruled out as a possibility down the road. Businesses and affiliations change all the time, especially in a league like the ECHL. Affiliations do not last forever, and this isn’t the end of the world. Most affiliations last no longer than four years and it’s very likely that the Bruins’ ECHL affiliate will change after this extension is over. Teams are sold, businessmen join ownership groups, and the business of hockey could change as a whole.
The good news is that the Railers have secured their affiliation for next season. We’ll know which organization that is in a few weeks. Even though the organization is not the Bruins, fans will still come to watch the local team play just like they did so many years ago.