ST. JOHN'S, N.L - For hockey fans in Newfoundland, the final buzzer at the St. John's Fog Devils game Sunday was the death knell signifying the end of major junior hockey in the province.
The Fog Devils lost 3-2 to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the final Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season game in the club's three-year history.
After financial losses mounted to the point where it was no longer economically viable to keep the team, the Fog Devils were sold in January to Montreal businessman Farrel Miller.
"We were really disappointed," said Lisa Pike, attending the game with her eight-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, both wearing red face paint.
"I'm sad to see it go," said Derek Curtis, who attended the team's first home game on September 23, 2005.
Hopes were high then that the Fog Devils would fill the void left by the departure of the American Hockey League's St. John's Maple Leafs months earlier.
But home attendance dropped, and the franchise quickly found itself swimming in red ink, losing roughly $1.5 million over the last two years.
"It's obviously a very emotional day today ... more bitter than sweet," said Fog Devils president Brad Dobbin. "Our fans just weren't that familiar with junior hockey.
"It often takes three or four years to turn a market around, build a market, educate a market about a new product like junior hockey. But unfortunately we were losing such significant amounts of money, we ran out of time before that could happen."
A confluence of factors led to the team's collapse. One is a travel subsidy which requires the Fog Devils to pay all of the costs associated in the visiting team's travel to Newfoundland.
The club also has a contentious lease with the Mile One Centre arena complex, an agreement QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau called the worst in the league.
The team pays $10,000 each game night to rent the building, on top of additional costs covering the box office, ice rental and concession stands.
The municipal government also expressed no desire to cover any costs that would keep the team in St. John's.
"It was apparent from the last couple of years that they weren't financially successful and that it was going to fold sooner or later," said Gerard Nash, attending the game with his five-and six-year-old sons.
"We're hopeful, but it doesn't seem like hockey franchises can work in St. John's for whatever reason."
Centre Phil Mangan scored the last regular season goal for the Fog Devils in the first period before the club's performance fizzled.
At the end of the game, four players gave their game jerseys to fans. The provincial and Republic of Newfoundland flags were laid on the ice.
"It's too bad we couldn't pull out the win," said centre Wes Welcher, who was named first star of the game. "We were a bit sloppy, and that's not the type of game we want to play going into the playoffs next week."
The Fog Devils face the Titan again in the playoffs, beginning Friday in Bathurst, N.B. The team finished sixth in the QMJHL.
Miller bought the Fog Devils for just more than $3 million and will relocate the franchise to the Montreal suburb of Verdun next season.
In 2005, the St. John's Maple Leafs moved to Toronto.