Niagara Powerhawks, formerly Lockport Express, set to begin year one in new home
By David Yarger
Hyde Park ice rink will be housing a new team this season, as the Niagara Powerhawks of the NA3HL are set to start a clean slate.
The team, formerly known as the Lockport Express, made the move from Cornerstone Arena in Lockport to Hyde Park strictly for business reasons.
General Manager Frank Vecchio noted ice costs, poor ice times, and lack of promotion ability in the arena as reasons for the move.
"The biggest reason for leaving Lockport is that it was simply impossible to forge a good relationship with rink management. We were not allowed to promote our team within the facility at all. We could not put a sign up to advertise home games, couldn't park our bus in the rink lot, etc. So, simply put, when you factor in the high ice costs, high cost of dryland training and the fact that the aggravation of dealing with rink management was simply way more than we were willing to deal with any longer, this was our final decision," he said.
Head coach Jason Hill said the move has greatly benefitted his team.
"We have free rink during the day and it's a lot different setup. It's good for this level and its worked out better for us."
Hill said the rink has made great renovations and is in the midst of building a new state-of-the-art locker room for the team.
Financially, the move will benefit the team, as the money saved being at Hyde Park can now go to the team and focus on improving things such as equipment.
Vecchio thanked the fans of Lockport and said they were terrific.
"The Lockport community had some upset people, and understandably so. However, those that knew the inside situation there completely supported the move from a business decision standpoint. I want to make it clear that the people of the city of Lockport supported us and embraced us from day one and we will be forever grateful for that. Those are wonderful people in Lockport," he said.
Hill agreed with Vecchio, saying "We will miss the support from Lockport, but we hope they follow us to Niagara Falls."
The move has been smooth so far, and Vecchio said his players have been happy with the new setup.
"The players are loving the move because, like most junior teams out there, our players have access to skate every day at Hyde Park, along with access to the workout facility. Our ice times are much more manageable as well," he said.
The Powerhawks' have received great support from their new community so far, Vecchio noted.
"Mike and Gene Carella, the operators of Hyde Park, have been wonderful to work with. They fully support our junior program and what we are trying to accomplish. The mayor's office as well as the police and fire departments have fully supported us and continue to help market our team so it's been great," he said.
Hill, born and raised in Niagara Falls, said having a team in the Falls, "It's been a thought of mine since I played minor professionally. It's a great thing for the community and us locally to have this opportunity."
Hill said his father played junior hockey in the Falls, so the team means a lot to him.
The Powerhawks system is part of a league of 47 teams from the northeast all the way to Montana and Wyoming. The players range in age from 16-20 and Vecchio says, "Our job is develop and move players on to higher junior hockey or college, and we have done that in our first three years. We sit down with every player and talk about their goals and aspirations. Our job is to help them achieve those goals."
Joining the Powerhawks this year, along with Hill is assistant coach/goalie coach, John Cullen. Both have pro playing experience and Vecchio said he's looking forward to the two developing players. Also joining the coaching staff is assistant coach, Bret Gilmour, who played NCAA Division I and came over from the Buffalo Junior Sabres Junior A team. Vecchio was excited for him to join his strong coaching staff.
Vecchio says fans can come to the rink and expect to have a good time, as the atmosphere should be something special.
"The atmosphere should be great," he said. "We have offered all police, fire, first responders, city hall employees as well as current and former military personnel free tickets to our opening weekend. We want to show the city what we are about and our product. We have chuck-a-puck, 50/50, T-shirt giveaways and trivia, as well."
Fans can expect to get the best out of the talent on the ice as well, as Vecchio said it's going to be an entertaining style of hockey.
"They can expect a fast-paced team that will compete hard every shift. We have a few younger players that I think will surprise people with their skill sets. We plan to play an exciting brand of hockey," he said.
Hill was excited to talk about the upcoming season, and expects big things.
"I'm looking forward to hopefully coming out hot, and being a playoff team," he said. "I wanna prove that we can move kids up the ranks and get back in the playoffs and compete for a title year after year."
Hill added his team will be relentless in their approach and it will work hard from puck drop to the final buzzer.
"It's not to say were going to win every game, but if we work hard every shift, good things will happen," he said.
The Powerhawks open their first season in the Cataract City on Sept. 9 vs. the Pittsburgh Vengeance. Puck drops at 6 p.m. and along with the opening weekend ticket special, tickets are $5 per person and kids 10 and under get in free. For more information, visit www.nfpowerhawks.com