In an email obtained Thursday afternoon, it was confirmed that the Danbury Ice Arena has officially changed hands and is under new ownership as of midnight.
The Arena first opened in 1999, and was renovated and expanded to its current size in 2004, coinciding with a United Hockey League franchise coming to town.
Now, the sale of the arena is big for a couple of reasons, noted in the release above: the first is that the new owners, Diamond Properties, say they are planning to do significant renovations and upgrades, and the second is that they have “exciting plans that should prove to be very popular to the surrounding Danbury community.”
Now, that statement does not explicitly say that those “exciting plans” are a hockey team, but according to multiple independent sources, it very well could be a professional hockey team.
If an agreement can be reached, a potential new team would reportedly be in the Federal Hockey League, according to three separate sources that we spoke with this week.
According to one source, the arena being sold to the new ownership group is Step 1 for bringing back a team to the 3,000-seat arena.
UPDATE (11:11 CST): A source in Danbury has reached out and confirmed a team WILL be coming to Danbury Arena in either 2019-20 or 2020-21…but threw in the wrinkle that there remains a chance that the team could be junior hockey. But that if it is pro, it WILL be the FHL that comes to town.
With that update on the team possibly being junior, I have to admit that of the two options, the pro game and the FHL would likely be more successful in the market. We’ll assume that the junior team for now is in the NAHL East Division, which is great hockey and would send a number of players to nearby Division 1 and Division 3 NCAA teams, but it’s a much more sterile product, and not the rough and rowdy pro game like the Trashers and Whalers brought to the arena that fans loved.
Danbury and the DIA are certainly no strangers to the Federal Hockey League, with the Danbury Whalers playing from 2010 to 2015 in the arena before they were evicted, and then were replaced by the Danbury Titans, who played from 2015 to 2017, before folding on the eve of the 2017-18 season due to rising worker’s compensation laws in Connecticut.
That worker’s compensation is where a lot of questions come in, because those costs have not gone away for professional sports teams in Connecticut, and in the very budget-conscious FHL, having most of your yearly expenses going to pay medical bills can hurt the team elsewhere, or just flat-out drive up the costs for running a team.
But as we all know in the world of sports, there are always ways to work around those things.
But geographically, the city is a fit even for the current FHL, with Elmira less than four hours away, and Watertown just under five hours away.
The Whalers were the far more successful of the two FHL franchises, reaching the finals three times, winning the Commissioner’s Cup once in 2013, and never seeing attendance dip below 1,648 fans per game. They were basically the Carolina of the league before Carolina joined the league.
The Titans proved to be not as successful in the stands despite strong teams on the ice, drawing just 734 and 909 fans per game in their two seasons.
If the FHL were to return to the arena, and if they were to draw along the lines of the Whalers, it would be yet another strong addition to the league to go with Carolina and Elmira, and could potentially set up further expansion along the East Coast, where the FHL had previously been rumored for a team in Maryland.
Prior to the two FHL coming to town, the arena played host to the New England Stars and Danbury Mad Hatters of the NEHL and EPHL – both of which lasted just one season.
Prior to that, the arena and town gained fame with the Danbury Trashers, who played in the old United Hockey League for two seasons before being basically shut down due to some shady business practices by their owner.
Now, there’s obviously a lot more that needs to happen before a team takes the ice this fall, and we all know how things can go in the FHL, but there definitely appears to be interest in bringing professional hockey back to a very strong market.
We’ll keep watch on the possible development, and provide updates as they are provided for us.