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Exploring the Possible Addition of Pro Hockey on Delmarva

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Elmira Jackals hockey team. (Photo: WBOC) Elmira Jackals hockey team. (Photo: WBOC)
Faceoff at First Arena in Elmira. (Photo: WBOC) Faceoff at First Arena in Elmira. (Photo: WBOC)

SALISBURY, Md.- With alcohol sales coming to the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, Wicomico County leaders believe those sales open the door to the possibility of bringing another professional sports franchise to Salisbury. County leaders believe the civic center could soon be the home of Delmarva's own minor league hockey team.

To find out what Wicomico County leaders can expect during the process of bringing hockey to Delmarva, we traveled to Elmira, New York, a small city on the New York and Pennsylvania boarder.  Elmira is the home of the Elmira Jackals, a minor league hockey team part of the East Coast Hockey League, or ECHL.

The Jackals were founded in 2000 and had their home opener last Friday night against the Norfolk Admirals.  The team is the smallest professional hockey franchise in the country but had been part of the Elmira community now for more than a decade and a half.  When Chemung County, and  Elmira city leadership were considering the team, and building their arena, back in the late 90's, there was a lot of conversation about whether the team could flourish in such a small community.

"Back and forth between those who thought it was a good idea, those who thought it was a bad idea," said Chemung County Executive, Tom Santulli.  "Is the community big enough to support it?"

The hockey team does still have support in Elmira, partly because of the popularity of the sport, and in part due to the work of the Jackals' front office staff.

"We really have to look at ourselves as providing entertainment regardless of what happens on the ice," said Jackals Vice President, Bob Thomas.  "The one thing I can't control is if they win or lose.  Or if they fight, which is what our fans are looking for a lot of the time.  Any little way we can get people to come back, that we can give them some piece of entertainment, because when the puck stops, something has to happen."

So far, hockey has done well in Elmira for the past 16 years.  Wicomico County may be getting closer to capitalizing on hockey as well.

"We're definitely exploring.  Oh yeah, we're moving ahead with it," said Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver.

Culver said in the past few weeks, he has had a meeting with a potential league about a potential hockey franchise in Salisbury.  However, there are plenty of steps to take before the puck can drop on Delmarva.  In Elmira, Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli said a board was put together comprised of county, city, and local business leaders prior to the team coming to town.  The board was designed to discuss the team and who to ensure it thrives, but also talk sponsorships and getting local business on board.

Santulli also said it is key to ensure that a base of the local population will come out and support the team.  Plus, there are the costs associated with starting the franchise, between building a rink, maintaining the ice, and buying all the necessary equipment including the Zambonis that also must be maintained properly.  It is an expensive venture, but there is money to be made outside of just selling tickets.

"Here's your main sources of money; youth hockey, huge.  Concessions are huge.  It really is.  It's big money and you want to run them and run them right.  And to me, if you don't have beer, let alone beer and alcohol, forget it," Santulli said.

But the beer and alcohol hurdle has been cleared in Wicomico County. In fact, Culver said beer and alcohol sales will take place at the civic center from now on at all appropriate events.  And inside the civic center, there are renovations on going that include new seats in the arena. The county executive said hockey might not be too far away.

"A hockey franchise, we'll probably be a year and a half to two years away because of all the materials we have to buy to have the rink, the locker rooms, that type of thing.  We have gone and actually started looking at hockey locker rooms.  So I have taken a couple trips for that," Culver said.

Hockey started in Elmira 16 years ago and the puck could soon be dropping here on the peninsula.

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