Dayton’s ECHL hockey team won’t play in the fall

By Tom Williams

Mayor Jay Williams won’t talk about specific teams, concerned it could ‘jeopardize a potential deal.’

YOUNGSTOWN — The ECHL, the hockey minor league that city officials have shown interest in acquiring a franchise for the Chevrolet Centre, has confirmed that the Dayton Bombers will not play in the 2009-10 season.

The Dayton Daily News reported Monday that the Bombers, an 18-season member of the league, played its final home game at the Wright State University Nutter Center and won’t be back this fall.

The Bombers’ final regular-season game is Saturday at Reading, Pa.

The ECHL says the franchise, owned by Costa Papista, must inform the league board of governors of its future intentions at the league’s annual meeting on June 24.

Papista told the Daily News that despite averaging almost 3,700 fans that the team would not break even for the 2008-09 season and could not continue without major capital infusion.

The owner since 2004, Papista said the team has not made a profit during his tenure.

Papista told The Vindicator in January that his team was staying in Dayton and would not relocate. Attempts by the newspaper to reach him last week or Monday were unsuccessful.

Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams declined to comment when asked if city officials were negotiating to bring the Bombers to the city-owned Chevrolet Centre.

“I won’t specifically comment on teams,” he said. “I don’t want to jeopardize a potential deal. Nothing’s been finalized.”

In January, The Vindicator reported that the city and Bruce Zoldan, owner of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms who play games at the arena, were discussing the possible relocation of the Wheeling (W.Va.) Nailers of the ECHL to Youngstown. The disclosure of those discussions ended any potential deal.

Zoldan, who’s trying to convince city leaders to approve his plan to bring a higher-level amateur to the Chevrolet Centre, said he’s not surprised that a minor league team was ailing.

“I thought that might happen,” said Zoldan of rumors that have been swirling around the Dayton franchise. “Unfortunately, it’s common in minor-league hockey in the tough economy we’re in.”

Zoldan said he believes the Bombers announcement will have no effect on whether the city accepts or declines his proposal for a USHL team. He expects a decision to be made within 48 hours. Williams said a decision will be made in the near future, but didn’t give a time frame.

The Phantoms will open the North American Hockey League playoffs on Friday at 7:30 p.m. when they play the Traverse City North stars at the Chevrolet Centre. Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be played Sunday at 3 p.m.

The Phantoms, which had poor attendance at its Chevrolet Centre games, won’t return next season to the facility.

The USHL is a top-tier amateur league that Zoldan believes will be successful as a replacement of the Youngstown SteelHounds, who were booted out of the Central Hockey League last June.

The Phantoms played 20 regular-season games at the center.

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