Generals out at Perani, Warriors in
FLINT — The future of minor league hockey in Genesee County has taken an unexpected turn, as the Flint Generals will be out of operation next year after failing to secure a lease with the Perani Arena and Event Center, a deal that instead was given to the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League through the 2014-15 season.
“For at least the next five years, Mid-Michigan will have the opportunity to cheer for a Flint-based team of talented young men, including many hometown products, as they work toward collegiate and NHL opportunities,” said Pat McEachern of the Michigan Warriors ownership group. “Today, we committed to building a team for a community that appreciates hard work and skilled play at an arena in the process of returning to its heyday. Continuing the hockey tradition here in Flint means new opportunities for many young men from the heart of this state to continue their careers.”
Having played their home games at Perani since 1969, the Generals were hopeful season number 41 was in the process of becoming a reality despite the various obstacles left to overcome, starting with the International Hockey League announcement on June 1 that it had a work agreement with the Continental Hockey League to compete under the same banner next season.
“Moe (Mantha) is here to create an exciting brand of hockey while helping a talented group of Michigan Warriors players continue developing their abilities as they work to advance to the next level,” McEachern said. “He’s been part of the game at all levels for a long time and will use that experience to help our players realize their potential right before the eyes of our fans.”
Also emerging from the landscape to throw the Generals into disarray were the Muskegon Lumberjacks, which folded after the 2009-10 campaign and are passing their name on to the Rochester Mustangs, a United Hockey League club that was dormant last year and plans to play next season in Muskegon. The Port Huron Icehawks didn’t made Flint’s life any easier, either, as owners Frank and Larry Kinney saw their team average less than 1,500 fans per night despite a wealth of on-ice success, leading the duo to become the possible new ownership group Generals’ minority owner Brandon Bordeaux was assembling.
“Over the past 40 years, Perani Arena has been home to some of Mid- Michigan’s most exciting hockey moments,” said Firland Management CEO Jim Cain, who oversees facility operations. “The addition of the Warriors to this venue is another important step toward our goal of providing this community the arena experience it expects and deserves.”
Complicating things even further was the CHL’s announcement last Friday that its 2010-11 season would begin Oct. 15 with only four IHL squads on board, a mix Flint was on the outside looking in at. The returning CHL teams are the Arizona Sundogs, Allen Americans, Bossier- Shreveport Mudbugs, Colorado Eagles, Laredo Bucks, Missouri Mavericks, Mississippi RiverKings, Odessa Jackalopes, Rapid City Rush, Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, Tulsa Oilers, Texas Brahmas and Wichita Thunder.
“The compilation of teams for the CHL’s 19th season couldn’t be better and we couldn’t have more momentum heading into the season,” said CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis. “The new additions from the IHL will be welcomed with open arms and could make this upcoming season one of the most entertaining and competitive in our history. We can’t wait to drop the puck in October.”
As for the Generals future, General Manager Peter South stated during a phone call Wednesday morning that his contract with Flint expired in May, leaving him out of the loop regarding the squad’s most recent happenings.
While last season Flint had an average attendance of almost 1,900, quite often the number of people in the stands was less than 1,000, forcing the Generals to rely on other IHL teams for monetary support after corporate sponsorship and advertising deals didn’t come through as expected. Despite this, Flint still hoped to follow the Bloomington Prairie Thunder, the Dayton Gems, the Fort Wayne Komets and the Quad City Mallards into battle against the CHL next year. Before that could happen the Generals needed a home, meaning the team’s lease agreement with Perani Arena required approval before moving forward, which they first received a proposal for on June 2 and responded to on June 7 and 11 with the appropriate financial information.
“The CHL and IHL are working on all the logistics of this groundbreaking association between our two great leagues,” said IHL Chairman Michael Franke. “Everything is moving along well and we are very excited about the end result that could be formally announced soon. It has been a complete pleasure working with the entire Central Hockey League.”
For 2009-10 Flint spent most of the regular season in last place before making a run late in the year to grab the IHL’s fourth and final playoff spot, which started with a seven-game dismissal of Muskegon after falling behind in the series, 3-1. Flint then lost in the Turner Cup finals to Fort Wayne in five games for the Komets’ third consecutive league championship.