Hockey deal for Chevy Centre advances

By David Skolnick

An ECHL ownership group is no longer negotiating to bring a team to Youngstown next season, the league’s commissioner says.

YOUNGSTOWN — If there is to be hockey next season at the Chevrolet Centre, it will be played by a team from the United States Hockey League, the top junior hockey league in this country.

No deal has been finalized, but the center’s management is negotiating with Bruce Zoldan and the USHL for a team from that league to play its home games at the city-owned facility, said Skip Prince, the USHL commissioner.

Zoldan owns the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American Hockey League that played most of its home games at the center this season. The Phantoms, which typically played to smaller crowds, won’t return to the center next season.

The Phantoms are in the NAHL playoffs facing the U.S. National team in the North Division championship. The winner goes to the NAHL finals.

“The city and [Zoldan] have reached a preliminary understanding and are moving forward,” Prince said.

“Protocol” calls for the announcement of a deal to wait until the Phantoms’ season is finished, Zoldan and Prince said. If the Phantoms keep on winning, the team’s season could end as late as May 3.

That’s probably too long to wait to make an announcement of a final deal, Prince said.

Zoldan said Thursday that he hopes a deal can be finalized and announced in the next five to eight business days.

“I feel comfortable there will be Tier 1 hockey at the Chevrolet Centre next season,” Zoldan said.

Without a signed contract, Mayor Jay Williams would only say, “I concur with Mr. Zoldan that there will be Tier 1 hockey at the Chevrolet Centre next year. This will be Tier 1 hockey and not what’s presently played at the center.”

The center’s management also had discussions with an ownership team from the ECHL, a high-level minor league with each team having a National Hockey League affiliation.

But Brian McKenna, the league’s commissioner, said, “There is absolutely nothing going on with the ECHL in Youngstown.”

The ECHL ownership team couldn’t come to terms with the center on a lease, ticketing and operations in time for next season, he said.

“The group has withdrawn their bid [to play in Youngstown] and to the best of their knowledge, the building would be signing a lease to bring in a junior team,” McKenna said.

Center and city officials had considered not having a hockey team play next season at the facility. But in recent weeks they have said negotiations were going well to field a hockey team at the center.

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