A large crowd is expected tonight at the Anaheim Arena for the Bullfrogs' first-round Roller Hockey International playoff game against the Connecticut Coasters.
Anaheim closed the regular season Sunday in front of 11,680 with a 13-3 victory over the Oakland Skates. The Bullfrogs drew three crowds of more than 10,000, including 13,314 on opening night.
The Bullfrogs earned home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs after compiling a league-best 13-0-1 record. They also led the league in attendance, averaging 8,779 in seven home games.
With seven of the 12 teams averaging more than 3,300, RHI president Larry King said the league will expand to 20-24 teams next season.
"Total start-up costs for this league was just under $3 million, and after Dec. 1, it will cost $2 million for an expansion franchise to join RHI," said King, a co-founder of World TeamTennis. "In those terms, RHI is the most financially successful sports league after its first season."
Hockey interest is high locally. More than 12,000 season tickets have been sold for the Mighty Ducks. Their merchandise is also among the hottest selling sportswear in the county.
In-line skates sales are up and skating rinks are sprouting across the county. Everyone from grade school kids to aerospace engineers can be seen playing roller hockey pick-up games on playgrounds and vacant parking lots.
The Glacial Garden Ice Arena in Anaheim and the Side By Side rinks in Huntington Beach are two of the county's newest skating facilities.
The Bullfrogs practice at Side By Side, which opened more than a month ago. Mike Yarkony, the general manager of Side By Side who recently moved from Toronto, was surprised by the sport's popularity.
"I come from where hockey is a way of life, so for me, personally, roller hockey will always be an imitation of ice hockey," Yarkony said. "But in Southern California, it's great. We've already had Bullfrogs clinics here at the rink and the kids love it. In Southern California, they just take their skates outside and play."
The facility, which has both roller and ice rinks--side by side--is busy nearly 20 hours a day, Yarkony said. He believes there is enough interest to keep the new rinks in business.
Bullfrogs forward Brad McCaughey said: "The game is faster paced than ice hockey. There are more breakaways, more scoring opportunities, more chances for the big goalie saves.. . . Fans get to see the most exciting parts of hockey, even the fighting."
Anaheim rolled through its first season, its only blemish a 6-6 tie with the Blades at the Forum Aug. 15.
The Bullfrogs won 11 consecutive to start the season and finished with the league's third most productive offense despite having the lowest-ranked power play.
No Anaheim player is ranked in the top 15 in scoring; the Bullfrogs succeeded with balance and defense.
Goalies Bill Horn and Rob Laurie, who allowed less than six goals per game, led a defense that tied the Toronto Planets for the fewest goals allowed. If the Bullfrogs win tonight, they will play the Blades or Murphy Division-champion Toronto in the semifinals, Aug. 31. The semifinal winners will meet in a three-game championship series starting Sept. 3.
The Bullfrogs are a physical team, and were second to San Diego in penalty minutes, led by Mike Butters, who was third in the league with 73.
Four Bullfrogs scored at least 35 points--Victor Gervais, Devin Edgerton, Brad McCaughey and Joe Cook. Cook and Edgerton each scored a team-high 18 goals, and Gervais had 24 assists and McCaughey 23.