IHL moves ahead minus SteelHounds


By Tom Williams

The league can’t wait any longer for formal discussions to begin.

YOUNGSTOWN — As the Oakland Athletics’ designated baserunner in 1974, Herb Washington put his sprinting skills to work earning a World Series ring.

But as a minor-league hockey owner, Washington has adopted the pace of a tortoise.

His slow-motion efforts to find a new league for his embattled Youngstown SteelHounds looks like it has cost the team any chance to skate this fall.

Paul Pickard, president of the International Hockey League, says he is tired of waiting for Washington to begin formal discussions about joining the IHL for the 2008-09 season.

As a result, Pickard said the six-team Midwest league will have the same franchises as in the 2007-08 season: Fort Wayne Komets, Muskegon Fury, Port Huron Icehawks, Kalamazoo Wings, Flint Generals and Bloomington Prairie Thunder.

Pickard said the IHL “extended several of our deadlines to give Youngstown every opportunity to be considered for the IHL, but [we] did not have the necessary information to make a decision. We would certainly revisit this for the 09-2010 season.”

On June 2, the SteelHounds were booted out of the Central Hockey League because of a financial dispute.

Washington admitted his company, Blue Line Hockey LLC, owed money to the CHL, but claimed the league owed his team for travel expenses that he was promised. The case is pending in court.

Since the end of May, the three-year-old hockey team that is the anchor of the financially-challenged Chevrolet Centre has lost its most popular player (Chris Richards to a team in England), its general manager (Joe Gregory to the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals) and coach (Kevin Kaminski to the CHL’s Mississippi RiverKings).

Goaltender Andy Franck, who was a finalist for CHL goalie of the year, has signed with the CHL’s Oklahoma Blazers. Forward Jason Baird has signed with the IHL’s Muskegon and center Eric Przepiorka will play in Europe.

Last week, Washington met with Youngstown mayor Jay Williams to discuss the SteelHounds’ future.

Washington said then that hockey in the city-owned building this fall “remains a possibility.”

Washington said he and the mayor would be meeting within two weeks to “work toward some resolution and have hockey as early as this season.”

The IHL rejection most likely makes that meeting unnecessary.

The CHL plays a 64-game schedule, with each team playing host to 32 contests.

In June, Eric Ryan, the Chevrolet Centre’s executive director, said he’s confident the facility could fill at least 20 of those 32 dates with other events.

Blue Line Hockey LLC has a 10-year contract with the city, but that lease may evaporate if Washington fails to put a team on the ice. In that case, the city might be able to pursue another company interesting in creating a team.

Washington’s other option is the ECHL, a national league which has teams in Toledo; Dayton; Wheeling, W. Va.; and Johnstown, Pa.

Last fall, ECHL officials said they might be interested in adding the SteelHounds, but said the franchise fee would cost approximately $1.4 million.

Washington said the SteelHounds have lost money all three seasons they were in the CHL but hasn’t released specifics.

williams@vindy.com

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