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Massena Arena being looked at for semi-pro hockey team

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MASSENA - The former owner of the Akwesasne Warriors, who played in the Federal Hockey League, wants to bring a semi-pro hockey team to the Massena Arena.

Darby Oakes wants to enter the team in the new North Atlantic Professional Hockey League, which currently has one team signed on, according to Kresten F. Ericksen, who has worked for the Watertown Privateers in the Federal Hockey League.

“He wants to put a team here. He thinks a team here would work,” Mr. Erickson told the Massena Joint Recreation Commission Tuesday.

He said that Phil DeFranco and Jerry Deno, who were formerly associated with the Federal Hockey League, had resigned their positions with that league. Mr. DeFranco is listed as the president and Mr. Deno the vice president of the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League.

“The two guys forming the new federation league were administrators in the Federal League,” Mr. Erickson said.

The new league currently has a team from North Adams, Mass. He said the owner of that team is expected to announce in a week to 10 days that they’re entering the league.

“The league has been announced as being formed,” he said.

Negotiations are also continuing with other potential teams, and there’s the possibility that teams currently in the Federal Hockey League could jump into the new league, according to Mr. Ericksen. The FHL currently has four teams, including the Watertown Privateers, who have been for sale and lost money this year, he said.

“The new owners want to come into this new league. They’re fed up with the shenanigans of the Federal League,” he said.

Mr. Ericksen said that at this point the new NAPHL will feature six teams. He said other potential teams are “hesitant to be number two” in announcing their intent to join the league until they see if other teams will first come forward. Some who currently belong to the FHL are concerned that, if they announce plans to join the new league, the Federal Hockey League will not let them re-enter. And, if they do, they’ll need to pay a $50,000 entry fee.

“The goal is to have all the teams announced by the first of May, no later than the end of May,” he said.

The Massena team would have a $100,000 budget, which is less than the FHL, mainly because of less travel during a season that would be shorter than the FHL, Mr. Erickson said. The 2014-15 season is scheduled to run for 50 to 52 games.

“(Mr. Oakes) feels pretty confident he can make a go of it,” he said.

What they would need at the Massena Arena is dates for 20 games, as well as playoff dates, which would be scheduled around other regular arena users such as Massena Minor Hockey, the Massena Central School District and the Massena Figure Skating Club. Practices would be held three or four times during the week, likely in the morning when there wasn’t a high demand for the ice, and games would be played Fridays and Saturdays and also Sundays following the conclusion of the Super Bowl.

“The league is not going to displace anybody,” he said.

The arena would also need to allow beer to be sold during games.

“When the Federal League began, they had a couple of franchises that lost a fortune because they were not allowed to sell beer. Beer at minor hockey is like peanut butter and jelly. Beer is important from the league’s standpoint,” Mr. Ericksen said.

He said one team provided a catering license to an authorized liquor retailer who would come to the arena the day of the game and handle all of the beer concessions.

The Massena team would also need a locker room where they could leave equipment, but could take it out when others needed to use the facility. A team room where they could relax after a game would be preferable, but not required, he said.

Mr. Ericksen said he expected Mr. Oakes to have met with Recreation Director Richard A. Boprey prior to Tuesday’s meeting. But since that didn’t happen, he urged them to begin discussions if they were interested.

“The sooner we get booked, the better it is for other teams who want to see who’s joining,” he said.

“We’ve supported hockey as a board. I think we would again. But we need something a little more concrete to move on,” board member George Hammill said.

“I thought it was all set,” Mr. Ericksen told him.

He said he believed the team could fare well at the arena.

“You’re going to have the blue collar hockey town. That’s what this is - blue collar hockey,” he said.

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