The buildup to the Delaware Thunder hockey team’s inaugural season in the Federal Hockey League has been nothing short of exhilarating throughout the summer and early fall months.

Owner and General Manager Coach Charlie Pens, Sr. managed the team’s free-agent camp and signed key players who will create the foundation for this year’s squad.

The Thunder, which is Delaware’s first-ever professional hockey franchise, faces off first the first time ever at 7 p.m. this Friday night, Oct. 18 on the road against the Watertown Wolves.

The Federal Hockey League is a Class A circuit that develops and sends players upward to the (Class AA) ECHL.

The team’s first signee was forward Ryan Marker (Sewell, NJ) on June 4. Marker is a pure goal scorer who puts his soft hands to good use. “I haven’t been (this) excited for a season (to start) in my life,” said Marker. “I’m ready to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed.” Marker skated for FHL rival Danville last season (13 goals, 28 points and +8 in 14 games) and registered one assist in four games on loan to Evansville of the SPHL.

Forward Brandon Contratto (Bloomfield, MI) adds scoring depth to Delaware’s offensive corps. A June 11 signee, he is excited to join the Thunder, noting “I know (Coach Pens) is building a top-notch program of blue-collar hockey players, and we are going to entertain the fans each and every night. It’s going to be an exciting season!” The five-year FHL veteran and former University of Michigan-Dearborn skater netted 12 goals and 42 points in 33 games with FHL rival Danville a year ago.

Right-wing Eric Masters (Edmonton, AB Canada) is a gritty, tough, blue color type of player, according to Thunder GM Charlie Pens, who signed Masters on June 18. “He goes tough into the corners and is extremely hard working….just the type of player I appreciate,” said Pens. Last season, Masters skated for Liberty University (17 games, 10 goals, 19 points, 34 penalty minutes) and Danville, where he tallied nine goals, 22 points, and 65 penalty minutes in 42 games.

Pens acquired hard-nosed defenseman Taylor Cutting (Royersford, PA) and goalie Aaron Taylor (Gormley, ONT Canada) in a June 24 trade with Danville. Cutting will cut it as a hard-hitting and willing pugilistic participant. He amassed 317 penalty minutes a year ago with the EHL Philadelphia Revolution (two goals, three points in 16 games) and the Dashers (three goals, 15 points in 46 games). “I watched Taylor Cutting play last season and paid close attention, knowing I would be (building a team in Delaware),” insisted Pens. “He is a tough, physical, team-first guy with skill. He perfectly fits the team we are building here in Delaware.”

Taylor compiled a 3.63 goals-against average and .920 save percentage with his 5-3-0 won-lost-tied mark in nine games with Danville a year ago. He played in four games while on loan to Evansville (SPHL), losing three times with a 4.08 GAA and .888 save percentage. He spent the 2017-18 season with the Dashers, compiling a 9-12-1 won-lost-tied mark and one shutout to go with his 3.1 GAA and .914 save percentage. “Aaron will be one of the top goalies in the league, and will give the Delaware Thunder a chance to win every game,” said Pens. “The deal we constructed with Danville took some time, but in the end, it was a good deal for both organizations.”

Pens signed his son, defenseman Charlie Pens, Jr. on July 8. Pens spent 19 games with Danville last season.  “Charlie will anchor our defensive corps because he gives us a shut-down defenseman who will play against other teams’ top forwards,” said Coach Pens. “His leadership and playing experience will help raise the bar for all players on our team both by example and off the ice.”

Forward Brennan Young (Aurora, ONT Canada) used the Thunder’s inaugural free agent camp to earn his way onto this year’s roster.  “Brennan surprised everyone with his speed, his drive to the net, and his hands that are extremely impressive,” said Coach Pens of his August 1 signee. Brennan is young and will give us the jump and speed that we need.”

Pens also signed 30-year old defenseman Anthony Pisano (New York, NY) on August 20. The veteran last played during the 2015-16 season with the Danbury Titans of the FHL, scoring a goal and three points in 10 games while amassing a +17 rating and 55 penalty minutes. “(Coach Pens) had reached out to me looking for a leader and a hard-nosed blue-collared player that will represent the (spirit of the team),” said Pisano. “I feel very blessed and grateful, (and am) looking forward to the home opener.”

Pens added that signing Tony makes the Thunder a team to be feared. (Tony) will keep other teams honest because he brings an element few players have,” said Pens. “He will anchor our blue line, give our skilled players space, and make (opponents) pay the price if needed. He brings skill, experience, leadership and an extra element that will make the Thunder opponents very uncomfortable.”

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