September 14, 2013 Updated: September 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm
Robyn Fisher, 7, was excited when she arrived at Security Service Field last month. It wasn't for Sky Sox baseball.
"The hockey boys are here," she said after she spotted 2013-14 captain Eamonn McDermott, and assistant captains Jeff Collett, Alexander Krushelnyski and Peter Stoykewych autographing team posters on the concourse before the Colorado Springs Triple-A franchise's home finale.
The youngster was too shy to say much, but the chance for fans to meet the players helps make the Division I program a big draw in a nontraditional hockey market.
"We have good, well-spoken and engaging students who are easy for fans to connect with on a personal level," CC athletic director Ken Ralph said. "They (the fans) like how they conduct themselves."
The demographics of the crowd makes player outreach all the more important.
Unlike most college events, females and children make up about 70 percent of the crowd compared to the usual 50, said Scott Lowenberg, CC's associate athletic director of external relations.
Nothing gets a child to follow a team like meeting players. But it isn't just children happy to meet the team.
Players sign autographs after every Saturday home game and take part in public Skate with the Tigers events. Last spring, they called season-ticket holders to thank them. It proved popular among the fans judging from Facebook comments.
In June and July, players make appearances at the free outdoor concerts at the First and Main Town Center.
This August, the Tigers handed out 350-plus autographed posters to Sky Sox fans, including some wearing CC jerseys.
The appearances eat free time, but players realize the more outreach they do, the more support they get.
"I like meeting people in the community," Krushelnyski said. "I think most of the guys enjoy it. We want people to come to our games."
For coach Scott Owens, player outreach is a continuation of the team's connection to Colorado Springs
"It's always been a part of the community," he said. "People met the national champions during the 1950s and in the '60s and '70s, players all worked and met people in the community."
That connection to the past shows up in southwest, northwest and central Colorado Springs, which combined, makes up most of the season and individual sales.
"You have people who grew up watching CC hockey when it was about the only entertainment option around," Lowenberg said. "It's part of their family history."
Most fans attend three to four games a year, adding to a foundation of season ticket holders and individual ticket sales that makes up most of the average 6,979 in paid attendance, fifth in the nation, this past season. The team has been in the top six nationally since 2002-03.
Group sales make a big difference, bringing in several hundred to 1,000 to some games, Lowenberg said.
"It can be the difference between 6,200 or 6,900 paid attendance," he said.
Many are first-time fans and some come back, adding people to the pool who attend a few games a season, he added.
Many of the public appearances are in northeast Colorado Springs where new residents often know little of the program.
That interaction pays off. The area accounts for most season ticket and individual game sales, Lowenberg said.
But you don't need charts to understand that.
"It's awesome," Darrell Rizzolo said during the Sky Sox appearance. "I just moved here from Greeley and I am definitely going to check them out now."