Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
DENVER — They're not Landeskog, Duchene or Stastny.
Yet the longer the NHL player lockout continues — preventing the Colorado Avalanche from starting its season — the more likely it is that area hockey fans might get to know Fulghum, MacKenzie and whoever suits up with them.
They are the core of the Denver Cutthroats, the first Denver minor-league hockey club in 17 years, and they'll be the first in 23 years to play in the aging Denver Coliseum.
"The truth is, we don't actually know how it will translate for us," Cutthroats owner John Hayes said of the lockout's impact. "Our target market is so different than the big dogs of the NHL. Our desire all along was to be given the chance, for people to come see us and leave it to us to sell it that it's a good deal."
That chance is unfolding in a big way, especially with the first two weeks of the NHL season canceled and little concession on either side for a quick resolution.
The Cutthroats will become the only professional hockey game in town — with due respect to the Colorado Eagles in Loveland — and could benefit from a sport-starved fan base and attractive ticket prices: $35 for center-ice seats compared with $110 at the Pepsi Center.
The team's inaugural opener is scheduled for Oct. 19, a week after the Avalanche opener was to have happened.
"All it really does is create more opportunity to get people into the doors," said Hayes, whose day job is chief executive of packaging-and-aerospace giant Ball Corp. in Broomfield. "There's certainly a sweet spot, and the lockout gives us the shot for people."
Whether that translates into filled seats — the ones at the Coliseum are wider, and the higher risers offer better views than the Pepsi Center, both strong selling points — remains to be seen, leaving sports industry experts cautiously optimistic.
"It's kind of interesting timing, and that certainly won't hurt them," said Dan Price, owner of Adrenalin sports marketing, which includes last year's Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings among its clients.
"But I don't think they're going to play the card of being the only hockey you'll see if the lockout continues," he said. "They have to exist in the same city. Where they benefit is the media showcasing, getting attention they might not have had otherwise."
Some already see it as a way to scratch the itch that comes with being a "puckhead."
"I have tickets for the 19th and will buy as the season goes on," said Jessica Canales of Denver. "I have some friends who are considering season tickets, trying to get their hockey fix while the NHL is in lockout."
Judging from early returns — single-game ticket sales began Oct. 1 — fans aren't yet flocking to buy. With an arena that holds slightly more than 8,000 hockey fans, the team sold about 2,000 for the opener in the first two days, Cutthroats general manager Greg Smith said. Half were already to season-ticket holders.
It might be the Cutthroats will be — even without the NHL — an acquired taste, Price said.
"The building says affordable and good value, whereas a brand-new building, you automatically think expensive, so they've got an advantage there," he said. "The target is a captive audience that's perhaps never thought of the Avs as an option because of cost, or for those who can't get into a University of Denver game. Besides, collegiate hockey does not allow fighting, and that alone offers something different."
One fan, Russell Dornisch of Lakewood, said the inexpensive tickets might replace the 10 to 15 Avs games he attends.
"The Cutthroats will benefit from this lockout, and it's way cheaper for me to go," Dornisch said. "I'm going because there's no other hockey."
The Cutthroats have a couple of familiar faces in former DU players Luke Fulghum (2001-05) and Aaron MacKenzie (1999-2003), a cup-of-coffee player with the Avs. And coach Derek Armstrong was an NHL forward.
"I think it will just be fun to sit in the old seats and have an experience that's all about hockey," Price said. "No-frills, hard-core hockey."
And the affable barn that is the Coliseum — locker rooms take up space once used for stables — is a draw all its own.
Minor-league hockey teams have not historically done well in Denver. There have been seven, the last of which, the Denver Grizzlies, skated to the International Hockey League championship in the team's inaugural and only season, 1994-95.
Now come the Cutthroats, named for the state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout. They will compete in the Central Hockey League.
"It's not just 'Slap Shot' reincarnated," joked Smith, referencing the 1977 hockey comedy starring Paul Newman and the band of thugs who made up the Charlestown Chiefs.
"Those first two or three games is our critical show, when we're really looking at the ice product and want people to see," Smith said.
What makes this group different from prior minor-league teams, though, is a squad of professionals with a new technology at their disposal, enabling them to provide a show that's more than just a traditional hockey game.
There's a new high-definition video board and a light-and-sound show by Edge, the same guys who handle shows at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for Broncos and Outlaws games. The team even has photo-op plans for a refurbished 1970s-era Zamboni that has been sitting idle at the Coliseum for years.
Even the ownership is impressive, with Hayes running a multibillion- dollar company and Smith a sports-development specialist who was chief operating officer of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
The two met as master of business administration candidates at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in the early 1990s.
"It's a matter of commitment," Smith said of Hayes, "and the desire to give back to the community."
The hope is that many will show up to appreciate it.