Fitchburg to score pro hockey.
Byline: Dave Nordman
FITCHBURG - A professional hockey team will announce this afternoon that it will play 22 home games at the Wallace Civic Center this winter as part of a new single-A level league with teams throughout the Northeast.
The Fitchburg Yeti, named after the Tibetan term for the abominable snowman, will be part of the North East Professional Hockey League, an offshoot of the former Eastern Professional Hockey League, which folded after just one season.
The new league is expected to include at least four other teams - the Rhode Island Storm of Kingston, R.I., the Boston Wings out of Saugus, the New York Aviators of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Phantoms out of Salem, N.H.
According to Brendan Tedstone, vice president and director of hockey operations for the new Fitchburg team, the caliber of hockey will be on par with the single-A Southern Professional Hockey League. That's a step below the double-A East Coast and (now-defunct) United Hockey leagues, and two steps below the triple-A American Hockey League, which includes the Worcester Sharks and Providence Bruins.
The NEPHL is hoping to attract former Division 1, 2 and 3 college players from the Northeast who wish to continue their careers close to home. Like the Southern League, NEPHL rosters are expected to have about 18 players with a weekly salary cap.
"New England is rich with hockey talent and tradition, and we're hoping to tap into that," said Tedstone, a 39-year-old Hopkinton native and former minor league player, who was known for his size (6-foot-5, 300-400 pounds) and penalty minutes.
In addition to the close proximity of the teams, the new league expects to keep expenses low by using local players who would not require housing.
"Our goal is to make good players great and get them to the next level," Tedstone said. "If they're goal-scorers, we want them to score a lot of goals; if they're fighters, we want them to get into a lot of fights."
According to a report on prohockeynews.com, the Fitchburg and Salem franchises are owned by former East Coast Hockey League executive Sterling Wright.
Tedstone expects to introduce his coach at today's 2 p.m. press conference at Wallace Civic Center, which will be attended by the mayors of Fitchburg and Leominster, as well as other community leaders.
Each team in the NEPHL will play a 44-game schedule, which would run from early November to April. Tedstone said "95 percent" of games will be played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and tickets would be "reasonably priced" with premium seats close to the glass and possibly a VIP section on the upper concourse.
Tedstone said the team hopes to fill the 2,500-seat Wallace Civic Center, but in a down economy, he knows attracting fans and corporate support will be a challenge.
"If I have my way, our players will be bagging groceries, visiting schools, and kissing babies," he said, "whatever it takes to win people over."