The first pro hockey team in the First State of Delaware will open its inaugural regular season in the Federal Prospects Hockey League in front of a sellout crowd on home ice.
More than 700 hockey enthusiastic fans will converge on Center Ice Arena in Harrington, Delaware (host to the state’s annual summertime State Fair) this Friday night, Oct. 25 as the expansion Thunder battle the Columbus River Dragons.
Delaware will also host the River Dragons on Saturday evening, for which a handful of general admission tickets are still available.
The opening puck drop for both contests will occur at 7:05 p.m. EDT. For the season, the team will play 28 of its 56 games in Harrington.
“The team is solidifying as a unit and we are excited to bring our brand of hard-nosed, hard-hitting hockey to Harrington,” said Thunder Majority Owner, President, General Manager and Head Coach Charles F. Pens, Sr. “We think our sold out arena will be a very uncomfortable place for visiting teams.
“There is no better way to begin this (inaugural) season than before a sold out crowd,” Pens added. “They said it couldn’t be done, but I think they underestimated our (business) team and, frankly, the (region’s desire to support a pro hockey team). Our (franchise) has been embraced by the community, and we are going to see that translate into an exciting season of professional hockey here.”
The Thunder shook off the cobwebs when they dropped a 6-1 exhibition game at Watertown (NY) on Friday, Oct. 18. Forward Ryan Marker (Sewell, NJ) scored Delaware’s only goal early in the second period to tie the score at 1-1. Evan MacIntosh assisted on the tally.
Watertown, the 2015 and 2018 FPHL Commissioner’s Cup Champions, regained the lead, 2-1 two minutes later. Although the Wolves pulled away on the score sheet, Delaware continued to battle. The Thunder’s Brian Austin fought Watertown’s Derek McPhail later in the second period, with both combatants earning five minute fighting majors and game misconducts.
Despite the setback, Pens, Sr., the team’s architect, thinks his squad is ready to skate with grit and talent against the best that the FPHL has to offer.
“I have the team I want,” Pens said with a lilt of great anticipation. “We’re only missing a few pieces – (another) solid defenseman and one more forward. Then, we’ll be all set.
“Between (working on) trades and (meeting with) agents and scouts (to build the roster), I’ve been pretty busy. And we’re in great shape. We have two of the top lines in the FPHL and a decent third line – so that’s three solid (trios). We have a good defense, reliable goaltending, and what I’m really excited about is our team toughness.”
According to Pens, his skaters will be arrive in an ill humor as they make frequent contact with opponents’ bodies, finishing their checks, and playing with the type of edge that is the essence of pro hockey. They’ll have to – the style of play in the 10-team FPHL will demand that aggressive approach.
“I have to be honest – as far as entertainment goes, the FPHL is absolutely the most entertaining league in all of hockey,” said Pens. “And I say that from (the perspective of) a hockey purest. A lot of leagues have eliminated the game’s passion, but we have it. We will have a lot of (open ice and corner) hitting because the FPHL is one of the toughest leagues in hockey.”
Fans can anticipate physical play and respectful one-on-one fisticuffs. And Pens expects 30-year old Thunder defenseman Anthony “Tony” Pisano (New York, NY) to keep opponents honest with his tough style and fighting prowess.
“Tony makes the Thunder a team to be feared because he brings an element that 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 experience, leadership and an extra element that will make Thunder opponents very uncomfortable.”
Pisano 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.
Additional toughness will be provided by right wing Eric Masters (Edmonton, AB Canada), Austin, and hard-nosed defenseman Taylor Cutting (Royersford, PA).
Scoring opportunities will be created by Marker, Brandon Contratto (Bloomfield, MI), and Brennan Young (Aurora, ONT Canada) with his speed and drive to net. Defenseman Charlie Pens, Jr. (the coach’s son) will provide reliable defense, while goalie Aaron Taylor (Gormley, ONT Canada) is a highly-regarded puck stopper.
The FPHL, a Class A grouping three steps removed from the NHL and two from the American Hockey League (AHL), offers players an outstanding opportunity to move up to the (Class AA) ECHL or Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). “In fact, there’s a great chance that six or seven guys on our team can play at the next level,” noted Pens.
The FPHL is committed to providing quality family entertainment at affordable prices. They are also dedicated to the growth of professional hockey at the Class A level, and creating a developmental ground not only for elite hockey players, but coaches and front office staff as well.
The league strives to build dedicated, customer-orientated staff to provide spectators, advertisers, sponsors, and partners with great value. The circuit has helped more than 500 players earn promotions to the AHL, ECHL, SPHL, and European leagues.
The Thunder, situated in the Eastern Division, will compete against nine FPHL foes, including four in their division; Watertown and the Elmira Enforcers (New York), Mentor Ice Breakers (Ohio) and Danbury Hat Tricks (Connecticut). They will also skate against five Western Division rivals; the Danville Dashers (Illinois), Columbus River Dragons (Ohio), Port Huron Prowlers and Battle Creek Rumble Bees (Michigan) and the Carolina Thunderbirds in Winston-Salem (North Carolina).
The Thunder becomes the state of Delaware’s third professional franchise, joining the Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team, an advanced class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, and the Delaware Blue Coats, a (development) G League basketball affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Thunder’s logo features a fierce-looking viking with a helmet featuring a lightning bolt. It was designed by Pens and Nick Matarese, a former University of Delaware goalie and coach.
“Viking were here in Delaware at one time, and they were very fearful,” said Pens. “We’re going to be a fierce, tough team to compete against.”
Pens previously coached the Delaware Prep team, the state’s top ranked squad last winter. He previously served as head coach at Wesley College (Dover, Delaware) and as assistant coach at Neumann University (Aston, Pennsylvania). Pens is the owner of American Hockey Services, a hockey training firm based in Newark, Delaware.