Federal Hockey League
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2018–19 FHL season
Federal Hockey League
|No. of teams||6|
|Watertown Wolves (2018)|
|Official website||FHL website|
The Federal Hockey League (FHL) is a professional ice hockey league with teams in the midwestern, southern, and northeastern United States. The FHL began operations in November 2010. Don Kirnan is the league's commissioner.
2010–11: inaugural season
In its inaugural season, the league had a salary cap of $5,050 per week. The roster was limited to 20 players for the first six games and 17 thereafter.
A handful of National Hockey League players and draft picks joined the ranks, most notably Pierre Dagenais and Billy Tibbetts. Dagenais, who played 142 games for the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers, played two seasons for the Akwesasne Warriors amassing 107 goals and 197 points in 68 regular season games, and helped Akwesasne win the first Commissioner's Cup. Tibbetts, who played the role of an enforcer in his brief 82 game NHL career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Penguins, played 15 games for the Cape Cod Bluefins in 2011-12, scoring 10 goals, 40 points, and 109 PIM in only 15 games.
In February 2011, the FHL announced it would add new teams in Morrisville, Vermont and Danville, Illinois, later named the Green Mountain Rock Crushers and the Danville Dashers, respectively. In May, the FHL announced an expansion team in Wayne, New Jersey, called the New Jersey Outlaws. By June, the FHL had been unable to establish a team in Vermont and included the Niagara Falls Nationals with the Dashers and Outlaws in an expansion draft. But by July 2011, the Nationals were gone and the Green Mountain Rock Crushers (which later changed its name to the Vermont Wild in September) were re-added to the schedule. In December 2011 the FHL announced that the Vermont Wild had folded and a new team, the Delaware Federals, would replace them on the schedule as a road-only team; the Federals played their first game on December 16, 2011 against Cape Cod.
In May 2012 it was announced that the Brooklyn Aviators were ceasing operations and that an expansion team was being added in Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Demonz (originally announced as the Dayton Devils) at the Hara Arena. The Dayton expansion draft and the Brooklyn player dispersal draft were both held on June 15.
In July it was announced that the defending champion New Jersey Outlaws were relocating to Williamsport, PA. Rather than playing in a traditional ice arena, they played outside on an ice rink at Bowman Field, home to the minor league baseball team the Williamsport Crosscutters. This venture was unsuccessful as the team folded on January 21, 2013, only to be resurrected by the league as the Pennsylvania Blues, a travel team that played four road games to fill in other teams' home schedules for the remainder of the season.
On December 15, 2012, control of the Cape Cod Bluefins was transferred to the league and renamed the New York Bluefins with the intent to play home games in Syracuse, New York; however the league only used them as a travel team for 13 games and the Bluefins folded at the end of the season.
On January 27, 2013, the only game in FHL history to be completed with no penalties was played between the New York Bluefins and the Danville Dashers at Palmer Arena in Danville, Illinois, a 7-4 Danville win officiated by referee Matt Spaeth.
On March 22, 2013, the Danbury Whalers swept the Dayton Demonz to win the Commissioner's Cup. The attendance at the final game was 3,116, the largest single-game attendance in the history of the league.
The FHL played with only 4 teams for the season, and in a bid for expansion played neutral site games in Winston-Salem, NC, and Connellsville, PA. Dayton Demonz forward Ahmed Mahfouz led the league in scoring and was the league's Most Valuable Player. The Danville Dashers twice were the center of national sports attention, first in a brawl during a game against the Watertown Privateers in which a collision between Danville goalie Nick Niedert and Watertown enforcer Jeff Dill took place, sparking a brawl, and soon spilled between benches, and punches were briefly thrown between Danville coach Mike Kellermeyer and Privateers coach Brad Zangs. Officials managed to get the situation under control thanks to the arrival of local police. The next meeting between the two teams resulted in a sellout at Watertown Municipal Arena, but there were no further incidents.
The Dayton Demonz won the first series over the Watertown Privateers, two games to one, to play top seeded Danbury in the finals. Danbury would win the first two games of the finals, game one in OT from a goal by Igor Karlov. Back in Dayton for Game 3 the Demonz sported new jerseys. Mike Brown, a Boston Bruins draft pick from the early 2000s, was injured and Kevin Hoy took over in net for Danbury. Dayton captain Brian Marks scored in overtime to force a game 4, which Dayton also won. Dayton won game 5 and the Commissioner's Cup in a 9-2 victory. Jeff Rose was awarded the Playoff MVP award.
Staged fight incident
In the final game of the regular season between Danville and Dayton, two friends and former teammates decided to stage a fight in the 3rd period. With a 4-0 lead and less than 10 minutes to go, Jesse Felten and Matt Puntureri squared off at center ice, and as punches would have been thrown, both players hugged it out instead. Next, Puntureri pulled a can of beer from his pads, opened it, and in each other's embrace, the two skated around center ice toasting the crowd to mixed reactions. The league announced that Felten would be suspended for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, and he took a year off of organized hockey before returning to the FHL to play for Dayton in the 2015–16 season. No immediate discipline for Puntureri was announced, since it was Danville's last game of the season. Puntureri later stated that he believed he would be banned for life, which turned out to be correct; he has not played professional hockey since.
The FHL awarded a new franchise to play in Southwest Pennsylvania to begin play in the 2014-15 season, named the Southwest Pennsylvania Magic. The Magic were to play at the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, PA. This brought the league to five teams and mark the FHL's return to Pennsylvania. In an interview, commissioner Don Kirnan stated he hoped to see as many as 7-8 teams in the FHL by the next season. However, after playing one game in which they lost 10-2 to the Berkshire Battalion, the Magic's membership in the league was revoked due to financial problems. They were replaced, under new ownership, by the Steel City Warriors, again located in Belle Vernon.
On July 14, 2014, the FHL announced another new franchise to begin play in Berlin, New Hampshire, to be called the Berlin River Drivers. However, on September 8, 2014, the league announced that the league would expand instead into North Adams, Massachusetts, with the Berkshire Battalion, citing the market to be a better fit.
During the previous season, a group of local investors worked to purchase the Watertown Privateers, owned by Don Kirnan. On May 14, 2014, news circulated that the owners group, named Top Shelf Hockey, LLC and led by local businessman Stanley Tibbles, had acquired Kirnan's franchise rights and started a new team, eventually named the Watertown Wolves.
On October 30, 2014, it was announced that a neutral site game would take place on January 31, 2015, in Port Huron, Michigan at McMorran Place, with an eye towards future expansion into Port Huron. The Danville Dashers defeated the Danbury Whalers 4 to 1 in the Port Huron game. The attendance at the game was 1,709.
The Watertown Wolves captured first place by the end of regular season and were followed by the Dayton Demonz who finished in second place. The Danville Dashers finished in third followed by the Danbury Whalers who finished in fourth. The Wolves won the FHL Championship in the playoffs over the Dashers in a five-game series.
On April 3, 2015, the Danbury Ice Arena announced that it did not want to renew its contract with the Danbury Whalers and gave them a notice to evict by April 17, leaving the last remaining team from the inaugural FHL season homeless.
On April 17, 2015, the Steel City Warriors announced that it had suspended operations, stating that the team was unable to find a suitable home arena, but had hopes to return for the 2016–17 season.
Also in April 2015, the FHL lost a lawsuit in which the league was ordered to pay former player Kyler Moje a sum of $800,000, after Moje became legally blind due to an injury incurred during a game on February 10, 2012. The FHL would appeal the judgment, citing that their lawyer never properly filed their legal response, but lost the appeal leading to speculation that the current league would have to fold in order to avoid the payment.
On May 20, 2015, the Berlin River Drivers announced their resurrection as the FHL's 7th team, to play at Notre Dame Arena in Berlin, New Hampshire. A year prior, the River Drivers were slated to join the FHL in 2014–15 before the league reassessed their options and expanded into North Adams, MA instead.
On June 3, 2015, due the eviction of the Danbury Whalers, the Federal Hockey League announced a new team based in Brewster, New York, to be called the Stateline Whalers, and would play at the Brewster Ice Arena under former the Danbury Whalers CEO and managing partner Herm Sorcher. The Stateline Whalers were announced as being owned by Barry Soskin, who also owns the Port Huron and Danville teams and formerly owned the Dayton Demonz. The Danbury Whalers were officially considered to be on hiatus for the season by the FHL, but gave up their naming and territorial rights to Brewster.
On June 22, 2015, the Watertown Wolves announced that they would suspend operations for the 2015–16 season due to their arena being renovated and an inability to find a temporary arena to use in Northern New York. The Wolves plan to resume operations for the 2016–17 season, after their arena renovations are completed.
On June 26, 2015, the owner of the Berkshire Battalion, Williams Dadds, announced that he intends to relocate the team from North Adams, Massachusetts, before the 2015–16 season after lease negotiations for the ice rink fell through. The city administration asked the team to only play a maximum of three Friday night games next season and repay all current debts prior to any lease being signed by the city but Dadds decided that the demands were unreasonable.
On June 27, it was reported that the FHL had approved of a new team Danbury, Connecticut, to replace the now departed Whalers. Local businessmen, Bruce Bennett and Edward Crowe were announced as the ownership group. Bennett would announce the new team as the Danbury Titans and had signed a six-year lease to play at the Danbury Ice Arena. On July 15, during the team's inaugural booster club meeting, Danbury Titans ownership confirmed that the league had re-organized and they will own the new Brewster team (formerly announced as the Stateline Whalers); Barry Soskin will continue to own the Danville Dashers and Port Huron Prowlers, but no longer be involved in Brewster. On July 18, Bennett announced the team would be called the Brewster Bulldogs and that neither of his teams would be connected to the former Whalers.
On July 15, the Battalion announced via their Facebook page that the team was moving to Dayton, Ohio, to replace the Dayton Demonz. On July 16, the Port Huron Prowlers announced that the protected player list from the Demonz had been transferred to their team and officially announcing the end of the Demonz. In the same press release, the Prowlers also confirmed that Dadds would be relocating the Battalion to Dayton and play in Hara Arena. On July 25, Dadds announced his Dayton team would be called the Dayton Demolition.
On December 23, the Dayton Demolition announced that it had postponed its December 26 game against Danbury due to "scheduling issues" with Hara Arena. On December 28, the Demolition then announced that its new home arena would be South Metro Sports, a recreation center with a seating capacity of approximately 200, in nearby Centerville, Ohio. After one home game at South Metro, the Demolition returned to Hara Arena. On January 17, the FHL removed Dadds as owner and on January 19, Joe Pace, Sr., the former coach of the Danville Dashers, was announced as the head of the new ownership group for the Demolition.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Danbury, Danville, Dayton, and Port Huron qualified for the playoffs. Port Huron would sweep the regular season champion Danbury Titans for the Commissioner's Cup.
The Watertown Wolves completed renovations to their ice rink and signed a new one-year lease agreement with the city of Watertown in order to return after one season off. In addition, the league expanded to St. Clair Shores, Michigan (Metro Detroit) with the new St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints, playing out of the St. Clair Shores Civic Arena.
On July 13, 2016, the "Dayton Pro Hockey" team, formerly known as the Dayton Demolition before removing references of the Demolition name in March 2016, announced it would be going dormant for the 2016–17 season. Owner Joe Pace, Sr. claimed that Hara Arena was unable to sign leases to tenants and he did not believe he could put together a team without a proper lead up time and secured arena. He also stated he would look to keep the team in Dayton in 2017 even if Hara Arena is still not available. Hara Arena would end up closing permanently in August 2016.
In June 2016, Brewster Bulldogs owner, Bruce Bennett mentioned to The News-Times that he would solely focus on his Danbury Titans team and would no longer be involved with the Bulldogs. Without finding new ownership, Bennett decided to suspend Bulldogs operations on July 14, 2016.
On September 14, the city of Cornwall, Ontario, approved a team called the Cornwall Nationals to begin play for the 2016–17 season out of the Ed Lumley Arena. On September 16, the FHL approved of the addition to the league for the upcoming season. The new team replaces the recently folded Cornwall River Kings and is led by Mitch Gagne and Rodney Rivette.
In February 2017, the FHL announced it was partnering with a developmental league called the International Developmental Hockey League (IDHL) for the 2017–18 season. It was originally intended to be focused on players between the ages of 20 to 23 who had aged out of junior leagues. At one point, the league website listed teams called the Baldwinsville Bandits, Elmira Express, Newark Diamonds, Palmyra Battalion, Syracuse Crush, and Watertown Whalers. The league held a tryout camp on June 15, 2017, for prospective players. However, on June 26, the IDHL then announced it would not play and instead purchased the Watertown Wolves when the team's local ownership group, said to be exhausted from the emotional investment in running a professional sports franchise, backed out.
After making it to the championship in the 2016–17 season, the Berlin River Drivers ceased operations due to the increased overhead costs of running the team and not selling enough season tickets for the following season. The Danbury Titans would also fold for citing overhead costs and specifically workers' compensation insurance in Connecticut.
When the schedule was released for the season, the Fighting Saints were listed with home games in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Témiscaming, Quebec, South River, Ontario, and Kingsville, Ontario. They were eventually announced to have relocated to Kingsville as the North Shore Knights. By December 2017, the Knights would forfeit or attempt to reschedule most of their home games before the team would forfeit all remaining home games after February 11. At the end of March, the Knights released all players and staff.
The Cornwall Nationals folded during the season due to lack of funds despite sitting in second place at the time. The five Nationals' games that were to take place against the Watertown Wolves were replaced by a travel-only team called the Northern Federals. All other games were immediately considered forfeits and were cancelled.
On July 17, 2018, Robbie Nichols announced he had acquired an expansion team in Elmira, New York, called the Elmira Enforcers, one year after the Elmira Jackals had ceased operations. In the same press conference, FHL commissioner Kirnan confirmed that North Shore was not returning. The following week, the league announced another expansion team in Mentor, Ohio, called the Mentor Ice Breakers to bring the league back to six teams.
On March 10, 2019, Enforcers' owner Nichols accosted a referee after the first period of a game against the Carolina Thunderbirds. The game was immediately cancelled by the officials, and subsequently led the FHL's officiating supervisor resigning from the league and pulling all the referees from the FHL citing the need to protect his personnel. Nichols was issued the league-maximum fine of $25,000. The league then recruited local officials for the remaining games.
|Team||First season||Home arena||Capacity||City|
|Carolina Thunderbirds||2017||Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex||3,150||Winston-Salem, North Carolina|
|Danville Dashers||2011||David S. Palmer Arena||2,350||Danville, Illinois|
|Elmira Enforcers||2018||First Arena||3,700||Elmira, New York|
|Mentor Ice Breakers||2018||Mentor Civic Arena||1,600||Mentor, Ohio|
|Port Huron Prowlers||2015||McMorran Place||3,400||Port Huron, Michigan|
|Watertown Wolves||2010||Watertown Municipal Arena||2,000||Watertown, New York|
Season year includes the off season and playing season until the championship game.
|Year||Teams||Expansion||Suspended||Relocated||Returned from hiatus||Name changes|
Broome County Barons
New York Aviators
Thousand Islands Privateers
|Rome Frenzy*||Broome County Barons → Cape Cod Barons*|
(due to mid-season
folding, only 8 teams
played at one time)
New Jersey Outlaws
|Niagara Falls Nationals‡
|Cape Cod Barons → Cape Cod Bluefins|
New York Aviators → Brooklyn Aviators
Green Mountain Rock Crushers‡ → Vermont Wild
|2012–13||6||Dayton Demonz||Akwesasne Warriors
|New Jersey Outlaws → Williamsport Outlaws
Thousand Islands Privateers → Watertown, New York
(continued to use 1000 Islands name for this season)
Cape Cod Bluefins → New York Bluefins†
|Dayton Devils‡ → Dayton Demonz|
Williamsport Outlaws → Pennsylvania Outlaws*
Pennsylvania Outlaws → Pennsylvania Blues†
|2013–14||4||New York Bluefins||Thousand Islands Privateers → Watertown Privateers|
(due to mid-season
folding, only 6 teams
played at one time)
|Berlin River Drivers‡||SWPA Magic → Steel City Warriors*|
Watertown Privateers → Watertown Wolves
|2015–16||6||Berlin River Drivers
Port Huron Prowlers
Steel City Warriors
|Berkshire Battalion → Dayton Demolition
Danbury Whalers → Stateline Whalers (Brewster, NY)
St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints
|Berlin River Drivers
|St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints → North Shore Knights|
Mentor Ice Breakers
|North Shore Knights
* - Indicates event took place mid-season
‡ - Indicates event occurred prior to the team ever playing a game
† - Indicates mid-season road-only replacement team
Commissioner's Cup winners
|2011||Akwesasne Warriors||New York Aviators||3–1|
|2012||New Jersey Outlaws||Danbury Whalers||3–0|
|2013||Danbury Whalers||Dayton Demonz||3–0|
|2014||Dayton Demonz||Danbury Whalers||3–2|
|2015||Watertown Wolves||Danville Dashers||3–2|
|2016||Port Huron Prowlers||Danbury Titans||3–0|
|2017||Danville Dashers||Berlin River Drivers||3–2|
|2018||Watertown Wolves||Port Huron Prowlers||3–1|
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