The news broke last month that the Jackals, the ECHL affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, would cease operations at the end of the 2016-17 season after months of rumors that First Arena in Elmira, New York, would also be closing its doors.
While the city of Elmira and local car dealership co-owner Brian Barrett came up with a financial solution to keep the city’s only entertainment venue open, the owners of the Jackals didn’t see a way to go on, making the official announcement on March 10.
While the news was hard enough for Elmira’s players and staff to comprehend, it’s even more of a shock to the local community, which has enjoyed Jackals games since the arena originally opened in 2000.
“I heard rumors about it, and then the team came out with a press release,” said Thadius Sales, local pastor and longtime Jackals fan. “I’ve been coming to games since I was a kid, and we’ve been here a lot lately to show the team we still care about them.
The arena’s abysmal attendance is starting to be linked to the city’s growing drug epidemic as a report by WETM-TV last spring deemed Elmira as the number one city “for prescription opioid abuse in the entire country.”
“If there’s no hockey, I think the community is going to suffer,” said Sales, who is concerned the lack of a team in Elmira could lead local citizens down the wrong path without a positive outlet. “Hopefully the new owners will do everything they can to keep the community strong.”
As if the rumors of the arena closing and breaking news of the franchise’s fate wasn’t enough for the Jackals to deal with this season, the team has been out of playoff contention for months with a mere 42 points on the season and a record currently standing at 17-45-7-1.
However, the Jackals have seemed to respond to all of the adversity by going 7-5 over the month of March, and considering it took the team until February 24 to achieve 10 wins on the season, it is definitely a staggering accomplishment.
Following the team’s last ever road trip over the weekend, which included visits to the Adirondack Thunder on Friday and Manchester Monarchs on Sunday, the Jackals and the community now have less than a week before making their final goodbyes.
The Thunder will be a part of this historic weekend at First Arena as they’ll take on the Jackals in back-to-back contests on Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8. With Saturday’s game being the final chance to see the Jackals, the team has dubbed the night “Fan Appreciation Night” and are hoping for a sold-out crowd to send the team off.