MILWAUKEE — For die-hard Milwaukee Admirals fans, the pandemic led to a long and painful 584 days without pro-hockey in Milwaukee.
"I was depressed and sad. I'll admit it. I was super sad. I know for sure we would've won the Calder Cup," said Kevin Kehoe, a season ticket holder.
He may be right. The Admirals were leading the American Hockey League and seemed poised to capture the title before a virus prematurely ended their season and canceled all of 2020-2021 hockey.
But the club is back and now several games into their 2021-2022 season. According to President Jon Greenberg, it is loyal fans like Kehoe that will help the club get past its lost year and perhaps a lost championship.
"We actually lead the league in season ticket renewal, 97 percent renewed," said Greenberg. "The ones we didn't have are people who moved out of state."
According to the team, there about about 1,000 Admirals season ticket holders, which is about 2,000 tickets a game.
That's one-third of the club's target to sell an average of 6,000 tickets a game.
It's needed revenue. According to Greenberg, the club lost $5-6 million due to the canceled season.
"And for a minor league hockey franchise in this league, it's a significant hit," he said.
The loyal fans are expected to show up, people like Kehoe who don't need any convincing, even as health concerns linger. But Greenberg knows others, especially first-timers, may need to know it's safe to be back at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
"So, making sure the building is clean, making sure that there's hand sanitizer, security protocols are the way they're supposed to be, encouraging people to wear masks if they want to, and also just being really welcoming," said Greenberg.
The Admirals are off to a bit of a slow start, at one win and three losses, but it's early. There are 38 home games in the season, and the fans, especially Kehoe, fully expect a playoff run.
"I love it. It's finally back and we're here. And all my friends are hockey fans. Milwaukee loves hockey. I love hockey," said Kehoe.