Options surface for hockey at Chevy new turns

By David Skolnick

The center’s other major sports tenant, the Mahoning Valley Thunder, is looking for additional partners.

YOUNGSTOWN — Chevrolet Centre and city officials will decide shortly what hockey team, if any, will play its home games next season at the downtown facility.

Bruce Zoldan, owner of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, which plays at the center, submitted a proposal for a team from the United States Hockey League, the highest junior hockey league in this country, to play at the facility next season. Hockey seasons typically begin in October.

The city is also discussing the potential relocation to Youngstown of a professional team in the ECHL, a high-level minor league, to Youngstown, said Mayor Jay Williams and Brian McKenna, the league’s commissioner.

Meanwhile, owners of the Mahoning Valley Thunder af2 arena football team are looking for partners.

The owners — Michael Slyk, Tim Chesney and Jon Saadey — will have a “private invitation only” meeting Tuesday at the center’s VIP lounge seeking investors for the team.

“At this time the organization desires to introduce the opportunity for equity ownership to other members of the community,” the invitation reads. “This event will serve as an informational meeting concerning the opportunity to become an operating member of the Mahoning Valley Thunder.”

Anthony Farris, the team’s media relations coordinator, referred comment Friday on the meeting to Slyk, who couldn’t be reached by The Vindicator to comment.

Williams said team owners have told him this move is to strengthen the organization by increasing its financial resources.

“It’s no secret that everyone is feeling the pinch economically,” Williams said. “The discussions we’ve had with the team have been positive. They haven’t indicated to me they’re folding.”

The Thunder struggled on the field last year, going 3-13, and at the box office, with an average attendance for its 8 home games of 3,235. The league average last year was 4,705.

The team’s home opener is March 27.

The Arena Football League, which holds majority ownership in the af2, canceled its 2009 season. Slyk has previously said that won’t adversely impact the af2.

Attendance for the Phantoms, a North American Hockey League team, this season at the Chevrolet Centre is about 1,000 a game. The junior hockey team — played by those between the ages of 16 and 20 — won’t return to the center next season.

The Phantoms’ last regular season game is Thursday. The team will be in the NAHL playoffs.

Zoldan declined Friday to discuss details of his proposal for a USHL team. But he’s said in the past that based on his experience, a USHL team has the best chance for making money, attracting a fan base and being successful in the city.

Also, a team from the ECHL — formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League — is looking to relocate to Youngstown.

Williams and McKenna declined to disclose which team.

If Youngstown wants an ECHL team for next season, McKenna said a deal needs to be finalized in a few days.

“We’re at the 11th hour,” he said. “The window is closing fast.”

The league usually wants a team relocating to a new market to wait a year before starting to play, McKenna said.

“It takes about a year to put a staff in place, sell season tickets, which are sold two or three at a time and not 100 at a time, and marketing,” he said. “All of that would have to be condensed.”

When asked about hockey at the center next season, Williams said: “I’m more optimistic for the following year. But there’s a fair amount of optimism for next season.”


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