While the pucks have been flying inside the Tundra Oil and Gas Place in Virden this year, the bucks have been flying outside of the rink.
In their first season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, the Virden Oil Capitals have averaged more than 1,000 fans a game through the team’s first 11 home dates.
"We’re very pleased with the turnout and support we’ve gotten from the community," Oil Capitals marketing manager Jillian Cockbill said.
The team sold 750 season ticket packages this year — almost quadruple the average attendance from last season (198) when the team played in Winnipeg as the Saints. While the season ticket base is strong, it doesn’t even factor in the healthy walk-up sales the team has gotten, and Cockbill said it’s a wide demographic attending the games.
"We see everyone, a lot of little kids coming with their parents and a lot of high school kids, which is good because we’re attracting the youth that might not have another place to hang out," Cockbill said.
The home-crowd advantage has also been evident in the team’s record, as the Oil Capitals have managed five of the team’s eight wins at home and currently sit .500 with a record of 8-8-5.
The success on the ice has also spilled outside of the arena, as the team has helped galvanize the community providing quality entertainment for a reasonable cost — something that businesses have stood up and took notice of too.
"We’ve definitely seen some positive impact from the games," said Dylan Clarke, managing partner at Comfort Inn and Suites. "We’ve noticed that parents have stayed with us because a lot of the kids are from out of town and so friends and family have come to games and spent the night."
He’s also seen an increase in corporate sponsors that are bringing customers to the community, all the while booking hotel rooms, going for supper and taking in a game during their stays.
Clarke even purchased a 50-game ticket pack to give to guests, an incentive to stay at the hotel — and it worked.
"I thought those tickets would last us quite a while and we went through them within five or six games and we’re just about to buy some more right away," Clarke said. "It’s been good for us. It’s good for the Oil Caps. And it’s good for the town, so it’s been really positive."
The team has also boosted the community’s profile across the province and Clarke said Virden is now known as a "hockey town."
"It’s created excitement in the community and it puts us on the map now with the new arena and the junior team," Clarke said.
It’s also been a different experience for the players, some of whom played with the Winnipeg Saints last year in front of less than average crowds to say the least.
"They’re enjoying the spotlight because a lot of these players played in Winnipeg last year where no one knew who they were and they get recognized in Virden," Cockbill said.
That recognition, however, comes with responsibility Cockbill said, as the players are role models in the community and have made stops at the local elementary schools to sign autographs for young fans.
"It’s cute to see the kids look up to the players and for them to take leadership roles within our community," Cockbill said.