While the minor league hockey world has had its eyes on the saga in Columbus, Georgia and expected return to Danbury, the Bus League Hockey received stunning news late Sunday night that the Federal Hockey League is expected to announce a return to Berlin, New Hampshire within the coming weeks.
“The league had always felt Berlin was a good market despite its size,” one source familiar with the negotiations said. “They really wanted back in Notre Dame Arena this past off-season, and kept an eye on the market even after the LNAH Berlin BlackJacks got the lease.”
Reportedly, the team will have owners from outside New Hampshire, who are expected to invest a large sum of money into the renovation of Berlin’s Notre Dame Arena, with the most notable upgrades being a new center-hung scoreboard, as well as chair-back seats, and the addition of 500 bleacher seats to bring capacity near 2,000.
Officials at the arena could not be reached for comment as of post time. This story will be updated if/when they respond.
The source was also able to provide BLH with the logo they are expected to use, along with jersey samples that they say the team will be wearing when they hit the ice this fall.
Sources also say that Carolina Thunderbirds GM Scott Brand is expected to relinquish his role in Carolina to accept the GM/President role in Berlin.
Bus League Hockey reached out to Brand for comment on the matter, and while he did not outright say he was taking the job, he also did not deny that he would be taking over the new expansion franchise.
“Berlin, dating back to the days of the River Drivers, was a strong market both on the ice and in the stands,” Brand said. “Obviously, the FHL feels it can be successful, and as I’ve always said, there are no bad markets, just bad marketing.”
This will be the third attempt at professional hockey in the Berlin market, which was previously home to the Berlin River Drivers of the Federal Hockey League for two seasons, lasting from 2015 to 2017. The River Drivers averaging 629 fans a night in their final season, sixth in the then 7-team FHL, and 600 fans a night in their inaugural season, fifth in the 6-team FHL that year, per the FHL site’s attendance numbers.
Following the folding of the River Drivers, the LNAH and the Berlin BlackJacks came to town, and lasted all of 10 games before being taken over by the league, and were reportedly averaging just over 300 fans per game despite it being “better hockey and a better league.”
Bus League Hockey also reached out to FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan for comment the matter.
“Wait when did the River Drivers fold?” Kirnan said. “Well, regardless, Berlin will be a great addition and we look forward to them helping grow the FHL brand, the best Single A hockey league the country has to offer.”
The addition of Berlin currently brings the FHL to seven teams, with rumored expansion possibly also on the way in Danbury and Columbus, the league could be at nine teams for the start of next season. Depending on what happens with those two markets, it makes one wonder if the league may speed up the process for a fourth team to get to an even 10 team.
Regardless, the Berlin addition is a shocker, and one that continues to give the FHL a strong presence in the northeast.