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Junior hockey in Alpena will have a different look next season.
The Alpena Flyers will compete in the Midwest Junior Hockey League for the 2014-15 season, taking the place of the now defunct Alpena Street Cats.
The team will be owned by the MWJHL, but will be managed by the Northern Lights Arena-Community, marking the first time in a long time that a junior hockey team in Alpena will be locally managed.
"When this opportunity came up where they wanted us to manage the team, it was a win-win for us as a community and as a rink," NLA-C President Bill Peterson said. "I think local ownership is what was needed all along, even back when the IceDiggers were here, that local ownership; I need people that when I walk into a business, they know me."
Alpena resident and former IceDiggers star Erik Peterson will coach the Flyers and Dave Guzman will serve as the team's general manager. Peterson served as an assistant coach with the Street Cats for the better part of last season and has already been in contact with several players who have expressed interest in joining the Flyers. Peterson will select his assistant coaches at a later date.
The Street Cats' lone season in Alpena ended on a sour note in late March when they forfeited playoff games due in part to a lack of players. The team was ordered to pay a fine for missing the playoffs and was ultimately unable to pay it. The league initially suspended the team and then voted later to disband it. Last weekend at the league's annual meeting, the idea of a local group managing a new Alpena team was proposed and NLA-C jumped on it. The league's Board of Directors voted 8-0 in favor of the decision.
"At that point they asked us if we wanted to manage a team that the league would own and I told them that the ice rink and the Northern Lights community would love to do just that," Guzman said.
The Flyers are the third different junior team to compete in Alpena since 2010. The Alpena Thunder competed in the Continental Junior Hockey League in 2010-11 and the Street Cats competed last season.
The difference this time is that the Thunder and Street Cats weren't locally managed, which in part led to low attendance for both teams. The Street Cats were one of the MWJHL's better drawing teams last season, but enthusiasm for the team-made up of mostly European players- waned as the season went on.
With local management, the NLA-C is aiming to breathe new life into the junior hockey scene. That means fielding a team with more of a local presence and making the team a mainstay in the community. Last season, just three local players-Kam Russell, Garret Bailey and Alex Guzman-suited up for the Street Cats. The Flyers are hoping to add more local players to their roster, specifically recently graduated players from Alpena High School. Dave Guzman said he has also contacted former Street Cats players and invited them to tryout for the Flyers.
Having local management also has financial benefits. Having a junior hockey team brings in about $20,000 in ice time alone along with other costs. As NLA-C is a non-profit organization, any money that's made goes right back into the community. The fees that players must pay to play will also be much less than what they were with the Street Cats.
"I know from the financial aspect, the arena definitely needs a junior team here and the community needs it as well," Guzman said. "The problem before when it wasn't a local group running the team, we weren't getting local players. This way we have more control over that."
The Flyers will be the latest team to use a name which has a long history in Alpena. The name was first used in the 1960s and 70s by a traveling men's league team and was named after the Canadian Flyers hockey team which won an Olympic gold medal in 1948. The name was also used by a Midget BB travel team a few years ago and is often used in local exhibition games.
The Flyers are one of two new teams competing in the MWJHL this season. The Macomb Monarchs were announced as an addition to the league earlier this year and the league is expected to have all nine of its teams competing this season.
"It was very, very important to maintain a franchise in Alpena. It's one of the stronger hockey venues in Michigan," MWJHL Commissioner Scott Gardiner said. "Between Sault, Traverse City and Alpena, it's one of the strongest venues in the league. The fans are knowledgeable and we didn't want to lose that venue."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.