Bears-Phantoms should shatter AHL attendance mark

It’s unclear whether Friday’s American Hockey League Outdoor Classic between the Hershey Bears and Adirondack Phantoms will draw a capacity crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

Saturday afternoon, Brian Smith of the Philadelphia Flyers media relations department said the game was nearly sold out. While there is no official capacity listed for hockey at the ballpark, Monday’s National Hockey League Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers drew 46,967.

Bears president and general manager Doug Yingst said Saturday night he expected the Bears-Phantoms crowd to be somewhere in the 35,000 to 38,000 range.

Regardless of whether the crowd is closer to Smith’s number or Yingst’s, one thing seems certain: the AHL’s single-game attendance record will be shattered.

The mark of 21,673 was set last season during the Providence Bruins’ 5-4 shootout victory outdoors against the Connecticut Whale at the University of Connecticut’s Rentschler Field.

The biggest crowd ever to watch the Bears play came on Oct. 9, 1998, when 18,394 filled Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., for the regular-season opener.

In Mike Foligno’s first game as Hershey head coach, rookies Scott Parker and Yuri Babenko scored goals in the final 4½ minutes of regulation against goalie Evgeni Nabokov as the Bears rallied for a 4-4 tie with the Kentucky Thoroughblades.

The biggest playoff crowds ever to watch Hershey came in Games 1 and 6 of the 2009 Calder Cup finals, when 15,003 fans saw the Bears beat the Manitoba Moose both nights at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Game 1 was a 5-4 overtime victory as Alexandre Giroux netted the deciding goal. Game 6 was Hershey’s cup-clinching 4-1 win.

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