The fans' embrace: NHL, Habs set attendance records
NEW YORK -- NHL attendance was up 2.4 percent from the last season before the lockout, with the league setting records for average and total fans and the Montreal Canadiens selling out all of their home games to set a team record.
The NHL played to 91.7 percent of capacity, drawing 20,854,169 fans for 1,230 regular-season games for an average of 16,955. In 2003-04 -- the last season before the lockout -- the league drew 20,356,199 for an average of 16,550. The previous records of 16,760 a game and 20,614,613 overall were set in 2001-02.
"We can't thank our fans enough for the record support they showed," commissioner Gary Bettman said. "For all our clubs, a terrific season was made even better by the enthusiasm and encouragement our fans displayed night after night."
Montreal sold out all 41 homes games at 21,273-seat Bell Centre to set a team record with 872,193. The Canadiens broke the mark of 861,072 -- or 21,002 per game -- they set in 1996-97.
The Canadiens, New York Rangers, Calgary, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vancouver played to 98 percent of capacity or better over the full season.
The Avalanche sold out each game at 18,007-seat Pepsi Center, extending the NHL's longest current sellout streak to 480 games, including the playoffs. The streak began in November 1995 during the team's inaugural season in Denver.
Twenty-four of the 30 NHL clubs finished even with or ahead of their 2003-04 performance. The top gainers were Pittsburgh (up 33 percent), Carolina (27 percent), Calgary (16 percent), Tampa Bay (15 percent), Nashville (10 percent), Buffalo (10 percent), Ottawa (10 percent), Boston (7 percent) and San Jose (6 percent).
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press