NHL News

The town that banned chocolate in quest for a minor league hockey title

Winning a hockey championship requires sacrifice from the players. But the Coachella Valley Firebirds are asking their fans for an unusual sacrifice of their own during the team’s push for the American Hockey League’s championship round:

Giving up all forms of chocolate as the Firebirds face the Hershey Bears for the Calder Cup.

Ahead of the Calder Cup Finals against the Hershey Bears, the Firebirds called for “a boycott and removal of all chocolate in the Coachella Valley, including chocolate bars, chocolate milk, chocolate ice cream, chocolate donuts, and chocolate chip cookies.”

The Thousand Palms, California-based minor league affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, the Firebirds suggested that “fans craving chocolate should hold off until the end of the Calder Cup Finals.”

But why?

The Bears, which have been playing in the AHL since 1938 and are an affiliate of the Washington Capitals, are based in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the home of the Hershey candy company.

Evan Pivnick, the Firebirds’ director of broadcast and communications, said the campaign was born out of their fans’ enthusiasm for the newest AHL franchise all season.

“Our fans have been fantastic all year in terms of buying in and kind of doing whatever we kind of ask of them. So we were thinking of something to get a little rivalry going with the Hershey Bears,” he said. “We knew there was going to be one on the ice. So we settled on a chocolate boycott in the Coachella Valley off the ice. Don’t buy any. Don’t eat any. Just one of those old school little [gimmicks] to keep it fun and light.”

It’s the kind of attention-seeking more one might expect from a team that debuted in the AHL this season matched up against the league’s oldest franchise.

“We’re just happy that our fans are responding to this,” Pivnick said. “We’re trying to make a little bit of history against a very historic team.”

As Pivnick mentioned, the chocolate “ban” isn’t exactly a draconian one. The confection is still available around the Coachella Valley. Chocolate is also still being sold inside the team’s arena at concession stands — although their mascot, Fuego, attempted to make a statement by destroying some inventory on social media:

(Fans in the comments were quick to note that these were not Hershey chocolates. The team doesn’t sell any at home games, which now seems fortuitous.)

Rather than prohibiting the sale of chocolate, the Firebirds have decided to be more proactive:

They’ve instituted a chocolate amnesty program.

“We’re asking fans to bring in chocolate to the arena. One of our sponsors, Brandini Toffee, will exchange it out for a bag of popcorn,” Pivnick said.

Here’s where things go from symbolic to substantial for Coachella Valley: The team’s goal is to collect 1,000 pounds of exchanged chocolate to donate to the local FIND Food Bank, an organization “dedicated to relieving hunger, the causes of hunger, and the problems associated with hunger through awareness, education, and mobilization of resources and community involvement.”

The team is currently doing “chocolate exchanges” at home games and is working on having them at the Firebirds’ viewing parties. Coachella Valley lost to Hershey in Game 3 on Tuesday. The Firebirds lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 on Thursday.

He said the team wasn’t worried that the Bears might ban one of the Coachella Valley’s leading food items.

“We weren’t really worried, because one thing that the Coachella Valley is known for is dates. It’s a big agriculture area, and dates are the big thing,” he said. “I think when you stack up dates versus chocolate, I think chocolate’s going to win. We weren’t really too concerned about that.”

Coachella Valley has outscored Hershey 13-4 through three games in the series.

Obviously powered by the chocolate ban, right?

“We’d like to think there’s some correlation to it,” Pivnick said. “I’m not sure if anything is too hand in hand. But what we’ll say that it is that the withdrawal of chocolate has made us hungry for the Calder Cup.”

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