SteelHounds owner mulls his next move

By David Skolnick

Friday, June 6, 2008

By David Skolnick

The team might join the IHL or the ECHL, Herb Washington said.

YOUNGSTOWN — The owner of the Youngstown SteelHounds says he has options when it comes to hockey. But it might be a year before the former Central Hockey League team takes the ice again.

After three days of silence since the CHL booted his team in a money dispute, owner Herb Washington said Thursday that the SteelHounds could join the International Hockey League as early as this fall.

The team also could join the more prestigious ECHL, but doing so this year would be “difficult,” he said.

Sitting out a year and joining the ECHL for the 2009-10 season is quite feasible, Washington said. “I’m absolutely confident the ECHL would welcome us with open arms for ’09-10.”

Washington also had conversations with the Cleveland Cavaliers about having a D-league (developmental league) team play basketball at the Chevrolet Centre beginning next year.

Washington said he’s considering his next move and should have a decision shortly.

“There are options out there,” he said, adding he is talking to the IHL about what it can offer his team “for this year or the following year.”

When asked about the IHL, Washington said it’s a good league “if you like fighting.”

Eric Ryan, the center’s executive director, said Washington needs to make a decision on hockey in about two weeks.

Without the team, 32 dates at the center, primarily on the weekend between October and March, are unfilled.

Ryan said with a lot of work, the center will do what it can to fill those dates.

The team is the center’s primary tenant. There are about 100 events at the facility annually. Ryan said the options range from attempting to get the team into another league, most likely the IHL, to getting out of the hockey business altogether.

Washington also is considering a partnership with other local business leaders.

Bruce Zoldan, who owns the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, a junior hockey league, said it’s a “dream of mine” to operate a hockey team at the city-owned Chevrolet Centre. Zoldan also attended the press conference to support Washington.

Washington said the SteelHounds have lost money every year the team’s been in business. But he wouldn’t say how much.

His options include being a part-owner of a hockey team at the center. He said getting completely out of the hockey business is a “real possibility.”

Also, Washington said he could field a “high-level” junior hockey team.

As for the SteelHounds fan base, Washington said, “I certainly thought it would be greater,” but he also didn’t expect gas to cost $4 a gallon or a sharp economic downturn.

Washington failed to give a definitive answer on what he’ll do next.

Much of his statement to the media Thursday mimicked a press release from a day earlier.

skolnick@vindy.com