Friday, March 18, 2005

IceDiggers closer to calling Alpena home

Alpena News

A few final details aside, it looks like Alpena may be the new home for the North American Hockey League IceDiggers franchise.

The team, currently based in Toledo, has rescheduled its final home game of the season to be played at Northern Lights Arena on Monday night.

“We’re looking at this like it’s Alpena’s team,” IceDigger coach and general manager Mike Mankowski said. “This is our last home game. We thought we might set the table for next season by introducing the possibility of season tickets plans and some early-bird specials. We want to continue to make our guys feel at home up there. We’re going to be returning 8-12 guys from this year’s squad and it’s a situation where we’d like to continue to let them get comfortable.”

Northern Lights Arena manager Norm Sommerfeld said the M-PAC board voted on Tuesday night to approve going after the Junior A program, believing it was a better fit for Alpena than the Junior B proposal NLA received.

“We selected a six-member panel to look over the contract and that’s where we’re at,” Sommerfeld said. “The committee seemed very positive. I think we have a good shot at doing this. We need to get approval from the Alpena Area Recreation Commission, but we’re putting together a contract.”

Two of the IceDiggers’ three owners were able to visit Alpena for the game against the Sault Kewadin Indians on Sunday and it’s likely the third owner will be available to come up for Monday night’s game.

“We were very impressed with the hospitality,” Mankowski said. “We were impressed with how hockey-savvy the people are up there and we were impressed with the amount of support shown to the players, owners and staff.”

The game between the IceDiggers and Sault Kewadin Indians, which attracted 852 fans, set a new franchise attendance record for the IceDiggers.

“The facility was awesome,” Mankowski said. “From a coaches’ standpoint it would make recruiting life much easier. A facility that’s less than two years old and is state-of-the art will certainly make a great recruiting tool.”

In Monday’s home finale, which begins at 7 p.m., the IceDiggers (18-31-3) will face their long-time rivals the Youngstown Phantoms.

“The rivalry is very good,” Mankowski said. “Both of us were in the CEHL (Continental Elite Hockey League) and we both entered the NAHL last season. I think the rivalry will continue to be good.”

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