Bruce Zoldan said he is hoping to land a franchise for a team in the Continental Elite Hockey League.
BOARDMAN -- The Ice Zone on McClurg Road may become home to a minor league hockey franchise, perhaps as soon as this winter.
Bruce Zoldan, who owns the indoor skating facility along with Thomas E. Hutch Jr. and David Burda, said Wednesday that he is studying the possibilities of forming a professional team that would play in the Continental Elite Hockey League that is based in Michigan.
The CEHL was launched in 1998 with six teams, including franchises in Detroit and Toledo. One CEHL team, the Detroit Lightning, has an affiliation with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Plans for the 2002-03 season include adding several Ohio teams, including one for the Massillon-Canton area. Dayton and Parma also are in the running as the CEHL aims for 16 teams.
The league adheres to NCAA amateur eligibility requirements as it seeks to be a training ground for future collegiate players, while doubling as a feeder system for the growing number of minor league pro teams that stock the rosters for National Hockey League teams' systems.
"We will have to make some capital improvements at the Ice Zone in order to accommodate a CEHL franchise, including more seats for fans and improvements in our locker rooms," said Zoldan, who estimated $500,000 will be spent to upgrade the Ice Zone.
Zoldan said CEHL attendance during inaugural seasons has ranged from 750 to 1,200 fans.
"The league is unique in that it provides an opportunity for players ages 17-21 to advance to college to play hockey, or players could advance on the professional level," Zoldan said. "In addition, a team here could provide a unique fall and winter recreational outlet for our community."
Zoldan says the CEHL team would play between 23 to 30 home games, including playoffs. The season will begin in late October and conclude in early April.
Zoldan said the family, youth and college programs already at the Ice Zone will not be affected by the CEHL team.
"We plan on providing a family atmosphere and quality entertainment with the CEHL franchise," said Zoldan, adding that promotions will include opportunities to skate with players.
"Our major focus is our effort to provide quality entertainment to the hockey fans and people of the Mahoning Valley," Zoldan said. "The Ice Zone is the perfect location for the opportunity."
Canfield High's varsity team and the Steel Valley Youth Hockey League comprised of club teams sponsored by Boardman, Poland and Ursuline-Mooney already play their ice hockey home games at the Ice Zone, as does the Youngstown State University club team.