WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Wild fan base made one final, raucous rally in support of the team that may be leaving town during a home playoff game Tuesday.
A chorus of clanking cowbells echoed throughout the arena, fog horns blared and the crowd of 2,777 seemed more vocal and tuned in than usual.
“What a great crowd,” first-year coach Bliss Littler said afterward. “They were really into it.”
Part of that had to do with the high stakes: win and advance to the Robertson Cup, or lose and pack it in for the year.
Still, every big hit seemed to elicit more excitement, each shot on goal a louder response and every call that went against the Wild drew a growling round of boos.
Littler said after the 3-1 win it was arguably the most amped crowd the team’s played in front of all season.
But for all the life flowing through the arena Tuesday evening, there was a bittersweet feeling among fans, who were hoping it wouldn’t be the last.
“It’s very sad,” avid Wild fan Tim Butterfield said of it potentially being the last home game for the Wild. Butterfield’s not a season ticket holder, but he has been to all but four home games this year.
“The fans are going to show why they (The Wild) deserve to play here,” added Scott Burchett, another devoted Wild fan, before the game.
Burchett, Butterfield and the others in attendance made it clear they want the Junior Tier-II team to stick around. Wild games are the best sports atmosphere in town, Lolita Skelton said.
“It’s one of the biggest sports here, so it’s not the high school, it’s more than a high school sport,” she said. “It’s as close as you would get to a (pro team) without having to travel so far.”
Town Toyota Center officials and the Wild haven’t reached a new contract agreement, leaving the franchise’s future in Wenatchee uncertain. Several fans blame arena officials for the lagging negotiations.
“I really think it would be one of the worst mistakes that Town Toyota Center and the whole board could make is losing the Wild,” Bruce Waugh said after the game. “I think it’s a huge mistake. I think the organization needs to make every attempt they can to make an agreement with the Wild and keep them here. They’ve done so much for the community.”
The majority of fans stuck around well after the game ended to watch the players celebrate. The players skated laps around the outskirts of the ice, slapping the glass panels, capping off an emotional night and a hard-fought playoff series.
For Wild fans, it’s a tough realization this could be the last hurrah.
“It’s going to be very sad if they (the Wild and Town Toyota Center officials) don’t come to some kind of terms,” Fran Butterfield said. “I don’t think anybody wants to see them go.”