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Mississauga Steelheads have seen ‘the needle move’ on low attendance, but Battalion move alone isn’t a saviour

Mississauga Steelheads owner Elliott Kerr (centre) has a 3-year commitment (OHL Images)

The long-running line about the Brampton Battalion and Mississauga IceDogs, Majors and now Steelheads was that they had enough fans between them to perhaps sustain one Ontario Hockey League franchise.

Now that is set to become a reality with the Battalion bowing to market reality and decamping for North Bay, the focus switches to the rechristened Steelheads. Well-connected owner Elliott Kerr has talked a big game about being the saviour of major junior hockey in the Greater Toronto Area against daunting odds and very reasonable doubts. It's worth noting, though, that Kerr, told the Toronto Star the Steelheads' attendance figures "aren't sustainable." However, there might be reason for some cautious optimism, although it's open to question how many of the few, the proud, the about to be disenfranchised Battalion fans will convert to the last GTA team standing.

From Daniel Girard:

The Steelheads, off to a solid 11-4-0-1 start and winners of five straight games [prior to Tuesday's loss], have averaged 2,253 fans through nine dates at the Hershey Centre.

Kerr, who previously had an ownership stake in the OHL's Guelph Storm, said at the outset of this season he's targeting average crowds of 3,000 this year (up from about 2,500), 4,000 for next and 5,000 in the 2014-15.

"We're acquiring fans one person at a time," Kerr said. "The problems and the challenges the Battalion had are very real for us as well.

"But we've got a head start on combating them and we've already seen the needle move," noting a season-high crowd of 3,684 this past Sunday to see 15-year-old phenom Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters also included about 1,200 minor hockey players, one of the Steelheads' target groups. (Toronto Star)

It is not going to be easy, but the stakes are likely high. North Bay deserves a chance to succeed or fail on its own merits (it collected 2,700 season-ticket pledges, which exceeds the size of many teams' season-ticket bases, during a Save The Cents campaign in 2002). It is not a growing city, though. Now what if Kerr and the Steelheads cannot make it work? The scenario Damien Cox offered up — build a new, appropriately sized arena in Hamilton — sounded promising if a bit blue-sky.

The betting is it [the Mississauga franchise] will be gone in three years, maybe to Hamilton if somebody figures out the right formula is to build a new junior-sized rink and twin it with McMaster University, which hasn't had a men's hockey program for a quarter-century and has never had a women's team. (Toronto Star)

McMaster University, whose Ron Joyce Stadium is an absolute jewel, has a track record in seeing sports facilities through to completion. Trusting Hamilton city officials to get anything done is another story entirely (does anyone know where the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats are playing next season?). If that's the market the OHL is keeping open for relocation, then eep.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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