After seven years playing in Brampton, the Beast announced last week that they’re the latest casualty of COVID-19.
It may have not been the biggest team in the ECHL, it may have not been the best, but it was there to serve its community in a unique and enjoyable way. It was placed in a challenging market, where the ECHL was relatively unknown compared to other teams that fill the same GTA market.
The OHL, AHL, NWHL and even the NHL were only an arms-length away from the Beast. Cary Kaplan was the president and general manager of the team for all seven years that the franchise existed for. To anyone who at least attended one game of the Beast, they would see how Kaplan emphasized making sure the fans had a pleasant experience.
“Hockey is number two in the roles of importance. It is very important do not get me wrong, but our community satisfaction was the number one goal for our team,” Kaplan said.
The team’s short, but strong tenure in the CAA Centre started in 2013 in the Central Hockey League (CHL). After one season, the league shut down and the remaining teams moved to the ECHL. “The move was great for us because we were playing teams that are closer to Brampton and more teams as well,” he said. Teams that used to be in the CHL include the Wichita Thunder, Rapid City Rush, Tulsa Oilers and many more.
Kaplan said that the organization struggled for the first three years on the ice. He believes the mistake that they made was looking at stats and on-ice ability too much and didn’t consider if the players meshed well together. However, in their last four years, when the hockey club changed their philosophy, they only missed the playoffs once and were about to make last year’s playoffs before the pandemic ended the season.
The team was also affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, and later on, with the Ottawa Senators. They were affiliated with the Tampa Bay Lightning for one year, but the connection wasn’t as strong as their Canadian affiliates.
“Both affiliations brought something different for our team,” Kaplan said. “Montreal gave us goalies and some new players that weren’t on the Beast long but needed to be adjusted to a level of play. The Senators really believed in our level of play. They would send players they knew were going to make it into the NHL or AHL.”
Because of COVID-19, the city of Brampton lost their only pro hockey team. Although it may not be known now, getting another professional hockey team might be easier than people think. Kaplan believes that an empty venue like the CAA Centre and a market so close to Toronto will attract another league or even the ECHL again in the future.
“We didn’t fold because of money problems,” Kaplan said. “Our attendance although not the biggest was great for our franchise. We folded because of the uncertainty of when we would be able to play again and that could have been two full seasons without a season.”
As of right now, the team only has an Ontario Junior Hockey League team as their next biggest attraction in hockey. The OJHL’s Brampton Admirals aren’t talked about as much as the Beast and didn’t attract much attention with less than a thousand in capacity per game.
But in a market so close to Toronto, a lot of factors are indicating that there’s some sort of a light of the end of a dark tunnel.