At 4:00 P.M. in the lobby of First Arena in Elmira, Federal Hockey League history was rewritten, as 18-year UHL/ECHL hockey city Elmira, NY officially announced its city would be the next on the map for the FHL.
From the press conference live-stream, you could hear the excitement and noise within the lobby, as long-time hockey fans anxiously awaited to hear from City Officials, IDA Administrators, the most-popular man in the Queen’s City of Robbie Nichols, and even Federal Hockey League Commissioner Don Kirnan.
The City, IDA, and Nichols did not shy away from the past, the failures that were written-on-the-wall from a Jackals’ ownership that “was ready to walk away”, or the more-homely state of First Arena.
Mike Krusen, Chemung County IDA Executive Candidate, expressed the concerns most-evidently.
“We tried this a year ago, and just weren’t able to get there. There were concerns about work that needed to be done. We’re walking through the building with Robbie to see what needs to be done, and applying for a three-million dollar grant to get updates like ice plants, suites, other stuff done.”
However, to every fault they admitted themselves, they came back stronger with a plan: private ownership (as Nichols’ lease has a lease-to-own agreement with the arena), a State Grant to help improve the arena back to its “former glory”, and legitimate plans and staff in place to get First Arena back on the professional hockey map.
Days before this press conference, Nichols explained that his wife, his kids, and himself were outside of the arena “sweeping cigarette butts, cleaning windows, and doing whatever we had to do to make this arena presentable”.
All the effort, meetings with City Officials, League Officials, the IDA, and most importantly – his wife – were all worth it for one reason to Nichols’ and his family.
“Because we care – We care about Elmira, and we care about the fans.”
The care effort shows, not just in the cleaned-appearance from the cameras and photos taken during the press conference, but from the excitement, and almost relief on the Robbie Nichols’ face.
One that could be described as infectious.
After negotiations with the Federal Hockey League that bled into this time last year, Nichols finally has his wish – to return professional hockey to a city he so desperately tried to keep alive. Nichols, previously the GM of the Jackals, was the lone bright-spot of apathetic ownership.
Had it not been for Nichols’ effort, and the IDA stepping in to bear the weight of the arena, “First Arena would have faced permanent closure”.
Words not uncommon to fans in the Federal Hockey League cities, especially in Dayton, Ohio.
Nichols’ and his almost-entirely hired staff – which will be announced on July 25, more on that later – are getting to work right away, and being fully-transparent about the process, immediately offering answers to questions from fans and media alike during the presser.
One such member of Nichols’ staff for Elmira FHL, is his General Manager Marc Witt – a former NHL Front Office member with the Columbus Blue Jackets who most recently served as the Vice President of Sales with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.
“I’m super excited, this is a great sports facility, a beautiful facility,” said Witt “I’m excited to get to work, get a staff in here and get hockey back in Elmira.”
Kirnan has high-praise for Nichols and Elmira, a city he says was initially proposed to him by the new team owner nearly a decade ago
Not everybody has somebody like a Robbie Nichols. The vision of the league is to be similar to what the [International Hockey League] was, and with Robbie’s involvement, the league is going to get bigger and better,” said Kirnan
“I’d say this, we talk about building like this or situations like this, there was nothing done wrong by previous people … the difference between them and Elmira is Robbie Nichols – this is the best situation. Eight years ago I was told this would be a good situation by Robbie Nichols … You couldn’t be in better hands.
Nichols’ promised many things to the fans who showed up or watched on WETM’s live-stream, but was most candid about one thing: making First Arena busy again. He’s already discussed bringing the circus to town, ice races, and whatever else imaginable alongside the professional hockey team.
The city and community are behind Nichols, and his effort, dedication, and steadfastness to the community of Elmira is clear-and-evident, long before this press conference ever took place.
This only reaffirmed what so many believed going into the day – Robbie Nichols is the man to rebuild Elmira hockey, and Elmira is the team to take the FHL to the next level in legitimacy, attendance, and competition.
The next press conference scheduled is the one the fan’s want to eat up – team name, logo, colors, staff, head coach, and first player signing will all be announced. That takes place July 25 back at First Arena.
This is a humongous step for the Federal Hockey League, and shows what can be accomplished when the right people are truly passionate about independent hockey.
Watch out, Nichols’ will be making headlines, and Elmira will be back to its former glory. The FHL now has more than just a golden goose – it’s gathering a flock.