LACONIA — After skating for one season at the Laconia Ice Arena, the New Hampshire Fighting Spirit junior hockey club will be taking its talent Downeast to Lewiston, Maine for the 2015-2016 season.
The team competes in a new division of the Eastern Hockey League, one of nine USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior leagues in the United States, and currently sits atop the Eastern Division with a record of 19 wins and three losses.
This week the Sun Journal of Lewiston reported Rod Simmons, owner of the team, entered a five-year agreement with Firland Management, the firm that owns and operates the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, which will the Spirit's home ice. Jim Cain of Firland Management projected that if the team drew 800 fans to 25 home games and a tournament the total economic impact on the Lewiston-Auburn region could reach $1 million a year.
Lisa Simmons said yesterday that "we were under a sublease for the ice in Laconia without any agreement with the arena itself." She said that the team had a one-year agreement and was unable to negotiate a longer one. "We found ourselves without a home," she said. Meanwhile, Simmons said that another junior hockey team team expected to play in Lewiston disbanded, leaving the city empty-handed. "We tarted talking with people in Lewiston about a month ago," she said.
Rod Simmons told the Sun Journal that the team wanted "a longer term contract to create a stability and a sense of home." The Fighting Spirit played in Waterville Valley in 2013-2014 after leaving Lake George, New York. "With us, at the risk of sounding arrogant," he told the paper, "we've won and have been successful, but we've never really had a home rink since we lost our ice in New York. So this is really what we've been looking for and it's really important to us too."
The Laconia Ice Arena remains the home ice of the New England Wolves of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. This season the Wolves have a record of 13 wins and 13 losses and are in second place in the Francis Division.
Junior-league hockey in the United States is an amateur sport, with club rosters typically populated with post-high school age athletes who are hoping for a college scholarship, or at least a chance to continue to play the game they love at the college level.