PHILADELPHIA -- As the emotion surrounding the Adirondack Phantoms' appearance in the AHL's biggest regular season game ever begins to fade, area hockey fans awake to a sobering reality this week:
The Phantoms' tenure in Glens Falls is likely more than halfway through.
Demolition began in earnest last week on the site of the Phantoms' future home in Allentown, Pa., where team ownership recently signed a 29-year lease. Ownership is confident the arena will be ready in time for the start of the season in 2013.
With an end date in sight, the questions of what is next for Glens Falls, and whether the market has proved it can support an American Hockey League franchise, return to center stage.
In a wide-ranging discussion Friday morning as they stood rinkside at Citizens Bank Park before the Outdoor Classic, Phantoms owners Rob and Jim Brooks made their most expansive comments to date on the state of hockey in Glens Falls and what has to be done over the next season and a half to attract another AHL team to the Civic Center.
"We have this season and next season to help figure it out. Can we support a team or not?" Jim Brooks said. "The first year, if that's how it was going to be every year, I guarantee we have a team. Guaranteed. The second year, no. It'd be hard. I think you would need like an angel to help. Like a local guy, maybe wanted to buy a team and be willing to have a team there because it's good for the community and it'd be fun for him.
"But I don't believe it's either one of those two. I think what we have to do in the next two years is figure out where that needle is. And if it's closer to year one, I think we can do it. If it's closer to year two, we're not. And this is really the only chance we have because we have the team there."
In an attempt to course correct, the Brookses made sweeping changes last season, elevating Chris Porreca to the position of executive vice president and nearly turning over the entire staff by the start of the season.
So with the midway point of this season rapidly approaching, where is the needle pointing? The Brookses say that it's too early to get a complete picture, but that after a strong start, things have cooled a bit of late.
Through 17 games at the Civic Center, the Phantoms' average attendance is 3,415. That's compared to 3,203 for 39 dates last season and 3,784 for 39 in 2009-10.
After breaking the 4,000 mark four times in the first 10 home games this season, they've cracked it just once in the last seven. Last Wednesday's crowd of 2,316 for a game against Binghamton was the second smallest of the season.
"We still have some work to do. Traditionally, in any market the second half is always better than the first half and so I don't think that the determination could be made at this point," Jim Brooks said "We're moving the arrow toward (year) one. We're in the right direction, but now we really have to ramp it up the second half of this year."
A point both Brookses made clear is that the rest of the league is watching what's going on Glens Falls.
"What's great about the American Hockey League is four times a year we're with other owners and we're very open. Things are very visible to see. We're open with numbers," Jim Brooks said. "Everybody in that room knows where everybody else is. And if we can show through results that here's where our numbers are and the needle goes toward the first year, then we can do this."
Rob Brooks added:
"One thing you probably noticed is there are a couple of owners who make the trip to Glens Falls. So it's encouraging for us that people are asking us about it."
The remaining time leaves the Brookses with a delicate line to walk. They have to promote their brand in Allentown and build that business while continuing to broaden support in Glens Falls for the Phantoms.
They believe they can do both with no contradiction. They've been straightforward from the start that the Phantoms' stay in Glens Falls was temporary.
"That's why it was important for us when we came to tell the right story," Jim Brooks said. "We're going to be honest. The honest truth is we bought this team for Allentown. And we're coming in (to Glens Falls) with an opportunity to help show whether you can or can't support a team for the future. I think if you're honest you don't have to worry so much about as confusing stories."
As the more than 45,000 tickets sold for the game Friday attest, as well as the near sellout last year at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the appetite for the Phantoms - the affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers - remains strong in Pennsylvania.
For some time, the Brookses had been looking to place a team in Allentown, which is about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia. When the Phantoms became an option, they knew they'd never find a better fit.
"Six years ago, when we started down this path in Allentown, we even looked at the ECHL. The American Hockey League was where we wanted to be with it based on the market," Jim Brooks said. "When (Comcast Spectacor President and COO) Peter Luukko called Rob and I and said, ‘Hey, we're knocking down the Spectrum, do you want to buy the Phantoms?' It's a no-brainer. That was like a two-second conversation from that point out."
While Allentown and the Phantoms may be a natural marriage, the Brookses believe that there could be a franchise somewhere that could feel that way about Glens Falls. But much remains to be proven.
"I see it as a little similar as to when Rob and I went to those two or three games Albany had in Glens Falls ... We had to feel comfortable that this project we're working on has light at the end of the tunnel. So the people showed us that ‘Look, I'm here tonight, I'm going to support a team.' And that's what we're doing, but in more than four games," Jim Brooks said.
"Someone is in a market right now that maybe they're not sure about. We can show them and our community can show them. ... (we) can support a team. That's how you convince somebody to move there."