After off-season speculation from fans in the Northeast of the next move for hockey in Jamestown, New York, the North American Hockey League officially announced they’re coming back to town.
To accomplish this, the NAHL will relocate the Philadelphia Rebels, a franchise that will be in its fifth rendition since its creation in 2008 (Wenatchee Wild).
Rebels ownership cited heavy competition in Philadelphia, leaving the junior hockey team as an afterthought. The team played two seasons in the Philadelphia suburb of Aston, before moving to the Class of 1923 Arena this past season, and in both locations, fan support was little to non-existent.
Here’s where things get murky.
One article from Western New York News Now says that the Tier II Junior hockey league will replace the current tenant of Northwest Arena, the United States Premier Hockey League’s Southern Tier Xpress, a pay-to-play team, while the NAHL is free to play.
However, the Jamestown Post-Journal says that the two entities will exist simultaneously, giving a chance for fans to see two different levels of hockey, and develop the game.
The Xpress just announced on April 20 that they were transferring from the the North American Tier III Hockey League (NA3HL) with other teams near them to create the “Great Lakes Conference” of the USPHL, the feeder league and level to the USPHL’s NCDC conference.
Surely, this will get cleared up by either league in time, but for now it leaves the Xpress in limbo.
First word we saw of the relocation came from Rebels’ broadcaster Tom Willms, who replied to a question asked after his formal well-wishes to the franchise.
This is a great grab for the NAHL, who previously claimed residence in Jamestown back in 2011-13 in the Jamestown Ironmen, who played out of Northwest in its prior name, Jamestown Saving Bank Arena.
While in Jamestown, the Ironmen averaged around 650 fans per night in their first attempt with an NAHL team, which would put them in the bottom-third of the league this past year, but would nearly triple the attendance this past year at the Class of 1923 Arena in Philadelphia, where the Rebels pulled in a reported 242 fans per game in the 2500-seat building. (The entire East Division outside of Johnstown is this way, which is another post for another time.)
Jamestown lost that NAHL franchise after a purchase deal between former ownership and an interested group of local investors collapsed, and resulted in the franchise’s fold.
The NAHL and Northwest Arena agreed to a whopping eight-year contract, allowing for Jamestown to be a legitimate junior hockey town for the foreseeable future.
It also appears that the Rebels will be keeping that name as they move to New York, based on the logo we spotted in the background of a couple images about the move.
This will come as disappointing news for fans of the Federal Hockey League, as expansion-heavy consideration from the league had many talking about jump-starting the former professional hockey city. With Northwest Arena seating 1900, it seemed like the perfect site. Should the team be a huge success, the arena does have the capability to expand to 3000 seats.
However, for junior hockey fans in the Empire State, this is what you want – to return one of the best junior hockey leagues in North America to a hockey hotbed, and gives them an instant rival in the Johnstown Tomahawks, who are 3.5 hours away, straight down the highway.
The newly relocated franchise will hit the ice beginning this Fall.