The agreement between the SteelHounds and Cleveland Barons could be a long way off, though.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Officials for the Youngstown SteelHounds have held preliminary talks with the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League about an affiliation agreement.
"Geographically, it makes sense," said Barons general manager Michael Mudd in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We've had preliminary discussions."
However, Mudd says a decision won't be reached anytime soon because National Hockey League executives are overwhelmed with decisions created by the league's new salary cap and draft.
"Obviously, with the NHL draft this weekend and everyone scrambling to understand the new [collective bargaining agreement], affiliations are on the back burner," Mudd said.
The Barons are the AHL affiliate -- similar to Triple A in minor league baseball -- of the San Jose Sharks. The SteelHounds are members of the Central Hockey League -- like Double A.
SteelHounds coach Jean LaForest says the Barons used Kalamazoo (Mich.) of the United Hockey League and Fresno (Calif.) of the East Coast Hockey League as affiliates last season.
"They have expressed that they will work with us and then gauge that for the future," LaForest said Tuesday.
"Hopefully, they will find it a positive experience to work with us."
Mudd estimated that NHL franchises will make their affiliation decisions by late August.
Emphasis on winning
LaForest said he's more concerned in the SteelHounds' inaugural season about winning games.
"It's important to have some American Hockey League help and partnerships, but it's more important from a performance standpoint in that we don't put the cart ahead of the horse," LaForest said. "But I think Mike is cognizant that we've have got to win games.
"When you get into an affiliation partnership, it can put you in a precarious situation because they can call up your best players."
On the other hand, an affiliation helps supply players, something the SteelHounds need. With training camp set to begin Oct. 10, the SteelHounds have three players signed for the 2005-06 season.
One is Jeff Christian, who also is assistant coach and recruiter.
"We're in the final stages of [negotiating a contract] with a number of players," Christian said. "We'd like to nail that down as soon as possible and really put a shape to the team.
"Off the ice, my job is to recruit, to get feelers out," Christian said. "I've called former players from my Lumberjack days who are now coaches. I've called agents who I fired over the years to see if they have any players who might be interested in us. At every level, we've made contacts in Europe and Western Canada."
Will train at center
LaForest said the SteelHounds will conduct training camp at the Convocation Center even though the building won't be competed.
"We will be operational to conduct our training camp, to have ice, the boards up, the glass," LaForest said. "I think there will be finishing touches going on within the building, but our locker room, our training facility all will be complete."
The SteelHounds announced a partnership with Humility of Mary Health Partners that will make Competitive Edge Sports Medicine one of the team's Premier Presenting Partners.
Competitive Edge Sports Medicine will provide doctors at SteelHounds home games, drug screening, rehabilitation programs for injured players, medical and training equipment at the Youngstown Convocation Center.