The traveling circus moves to western PA and Winston-Salem, NC


By: Todd Bartley, General Manager, Talk WilliamsportRadio Williamsport

So on a busy Wednesday afternoon I received an automated e-mail sent to the media from the Federal Hockey League. Williamsport and Lycoming County residents may recall this organization. These are the folks that brought “professional hockey” (and I use that term loosely) to town last year, only to fold up shop before the season ended. In the mass exodus the team and league abandoned the ice rink that was specially built just for them to play and practice on. I can’t forget to mention the public skating sessions run by the non-profit.

If that wasn’t enough, they reportedly stiffed the City of Williamsport on rent and utilities to the tune of more than $50,000 and the ice rink company nearly $200,000. The Mayor of Williamsport has filed suit against the team and various parties including Don Kirnan who remains the Commissioner of the Federal Hockey League to try and recoup damages.

Now comes word from a four year old, four team league, “The Federal Hockey League is proud to announce that the league has agreed with the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds to bring a regular season neutral site contest to the Winston-Salem Lawrence Joel Memorial Annex.  The game is set for Saturday, March 1st, and will feature the Watertown Privateers against the Dayton Demonz.  The puck drops at 7:05 PM.”

Additionally, another neutral site game is planned for March 22, 2014 in Connellsville, Pennsylvania (south of Pittsburgh) at The Ice Mine. Brilliant scheduling again by the FHL to play on the same day as the Penguins hosting the Lightning. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Panthers most likely playing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that weekend as well.

When contacted this afternoon by Talk WilliamsportRadio Williamsport, officials at The Ice Mine, the fairgrounds complex and the City of Winston-Salem were unaware of what had transpired here in Williamsport. Officials will be providing comments for a follow-up story in the next few days.

Neither venue has been paid a deposit for the games to be played. The Winston-Salem deposit is due January 20, 2014.

In the case of Winston-Salem the tickets go on sale Friday at $10 each. Which means the FHL must sell 150 seats just to cover the rental fee before they even begin to pay for event staff and other expenses. Not to mention the cost of bring teams in from out of state.

In the press release, Federal Hockey League Commissioner, Don Kirnan commented, “We have targeted a few venues that could make strong additions to our league.  The city of Winston-Salem has had a very strong track record of professional hockey and supporting their hometown franchise.  We look forward to showing this community what our product is about and gauging the interest in putting a team in here for the 14-15 season.”

I wonder if the fans know about the Williamsport Outlaws fans experience?

Don Kirnan stood up in the Outlaws team announcement press conference last year and said “fans will drive from hundreds of miles around to see this product.” Really, Don?

I have a feeling the Men’s Basketball fans may instead attend Boston College at Wake Forest the same day at 4 p.m. next door, all of the Winston-Salem State Rams fans (NCAA Division II) will be in Charlotte for the CIAA Tournament, which is a southern states tradition that dates back decades. Right in the back yard is High Point University also hosting in-state rival Campbell with the game broadcast on Fox SportsU. Did I mention North Carolina is at Virginia Tech THE SAME DAY!

So who will go see these “showcase” games since we know the Federal Hockey League does such a marvelous job of marketing itself? (see above paragraph in regard to four teams)

No one!

By the way, did I mention the NHL team from Carolina called the Hurricanes will be in Los Angeles that same day for a 4 p.m. face off with the Kings? The Hurricanes have what are called “Cool Bars” promotions, it is a watch party for fans and sure enough fans from Wilmington won’t be making the drive from hundreds of miles to see “the Joke next to the Joel”. Instead they will get free stuff from an NHL team that they know WILL be playing in Raleigh in 2014-2015 and beyond.

I need to give full disclosure in regard to the teams I have mentioned above. When I was in North Carolina running the Talk WilliamsportRadio stations in the eastern portion of the state we carried none other than, Wake Forest, Campbell, North Carolina, the Kinston Indians who at the time played the Winston-Salem Warthogs and of course we carried the Hurricanes during the seasons leading up to and winning the Stanley Cup! Many of the folks we built relationships with are still there and friends to this day. Also, Talk WilliamsportRadio Williamsport is home to the Pittsburgh Penguins as well. Long time Pittsburgh Panthers play-by-play voice Bill Hillgrove has been a guest of mine on numerous shows over the years.

For this author, I would hate to see what happened here in Williamsport happen to our unsuspecting neighbors in Connellsville, PA and my friends in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Although, being its a traveling circus I would like to know if Don Kirnan would be wearing a big red nose with the goofy clown hair and those suspenders?

Keep you posted.