BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — It was a little easier to find a hotel room at the Grand Traverse Resort in September.
With the National Hockey League lockout dragging on and on, its effects rippled farther and farther away from NHL cities.
The lockout — and its consequences — is our No. 1 local sports story of 2012.
Traverse City is known as Hockeytown North, but perhaps not this year.
In addition to the Traverse City North Stars moving to Sault Ste. Marie, the city lost the Detroit Red Wings training camp and the NHL Prospects Tournament — both of which drew not only the teams, but multitudes of fans and media that helped further Traverse City's status as a travel destination.
The yearly activity in TC kept hotel rooms occupied, restaurants more busy and seats and ice time filled at Centre ICE.
But not this fall.
Not only were area hockey fans deprived of NHL action, but it also cost the diehards that come to Red Wings training camp their annual up-close-and-personal experience with the professional athletes.
Centre ICE executive director Terry Marchand said between the Red Wings training camp, Prospects Tournament, the Wings' golf outing at GT Resort and the North Stars, Centre ICE lost about 15% of its annual revenue.
"That was a huge hit," Marchand said. "Our other user groups are going well. We've had some big youth (hockey) tournaments. The figure skating club is picking up some extra ice time. The high school teams are going well. We can't make it up, but we're putting dents in it."
Luckily, Marchand said he's received assurances the Red Wings will be back in Traverse City "for sure" once the NHL work stoppage is resolved.
The Red Wings did hold their development camp for minor-league players here this summer before the league's labor negotiations impasse dragged on long enough to force cancellation of large chunks of the season.
Centre ICE also lost the Northwest Warriors, a co-op high school hockey team that played its games there as well. An eight-school effort, the Warriors folded after three years of struggling to keep participation numbers to a level where they could be competitive with more established teams.
Another side effect of the NHL lockout was the move of the Traverse City Central-Traverse City West hockey game on Dec. 19.
Originally chosen as one of the various high school, Junior and other hockey games to be played outdoors at the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park, that slate of games was wiped out by the lockout as well. The Central-West game was instead played at TC's Howe Arena, with the Trojans earning a 2-1 overtime win over their crosstown rival.