North Adams pro hockey team looking elsewhere for league
If North Adams sees professional hockey this year, it won't be in the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League.
The NAPHL announced Saturday on its Facebook page and in an email release that the league would postpone its inaugural season until 2015, and that the Berkshire Black Bears -- the planned North Adams franchise that would play at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink -- had been released from their contract with the league in order to pursue another affiliation.
That affiliation could be with the Federal Hockey League, as the Black Bears have applied to become the league's sixth team. The Black Bears, represented by team president Phil DeFranco, will take part in a 1 p.m. conference call Tuesday with the FHL's board of governors.
"Due to the overwhelming support that has been shown to the Berkshire Black Bears by both the fans and the Town of North Adams, we felt it only fair to release them from their contract with the NAPHL to pursue other alternatives," the NAPHL's release read in part.
North Adams was one of only two franchises the league had announced for its inaugural season, which was scheduled to begin this fall. Massena, N.Y., was to host the other franchise; according to the NAPHL, that will be put on hold until 2015 as well.
NAPHL Vice President of Operations Jerry Deno, in a post on the NAPHL website's home page, claimed the league had the opportunity to field as many as five teams this season, but that he "was not sure they would all last a whole season, or be around next season. I cannot and will not work that way."
Deno had not returned requests for comment Monday night.
The FHL confirmed Monday that North Adams has applied, and that the conference call will take place Tuesday. After that call, a vote is expected regarding North Adams' possible inclusion in the FHL.
"We'll have to see how it goes [Tuesday]," FHL Vice Commissioner Andrew Richards said Monday. "There's questions to be asked and answered."
DeFranco said he will pitch North Adams as a "perfect venue for the FHL," citing its facilities at the Vietnam Veterans Rink and the city's proximity to current Federal League franchises in Danbury, Conn., and Watertown, N.Y.
The Federal League currently has five teams, having recently held an expansion draft for new franchises in Belle Vernon, Pa., and Watertown. The other teams play in Danbury, Dayton, Ohio, and Danville, Ill.
Richards said the league is interested in expanding beyond five teams if the situation is right for the FHL.
"It makes sense if it's in the right scenario, the right location, the right financial situation and if it makes the schedule better," he said. "There's a lot of reasons to want to find a viable sixth team."
DeFranco, who was formerly associated with the FHL before starting the NAPHL, said he's ready to return to the league in order to bring North Adams a hockey team.
"I promised a city and the people here that I would put a team here," he said. "I'm a man of my word."
If the FHL votes in favor of expansion, DeFranco will leave the NAPHL's front office at the end of the current fiscal year. Should the FHL vote go against the Black Bears, though, DeFranco said the Black Bears will likely have to go on hiatus for a year, as the NAPHL is doing.
"There are no other single-A leagues around," he said. "I wouldn't really want to do [that], but it may be what we're forced to do."
There seems to be some confusion, however, as to the initial interest between the Black Bears and FHL. DeFranco said Monday night that FHL Commissioner Don Kirnan initially texted him to see if the sides could work something out. The post on the NAPHL homepage stated that the FHL "asked the Black Bears if they would like to enter their league." On Monday evening, FHL Director of Social Media Charlie Apap told The Eagle via Facebook that the claims are incorrect.
"To clarify, they contacted us; we did not contact them," Apap wrote.
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