By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — The owners of the former River Drivers' hockey team announced Wednesday that they plan to join a professional Canadian hockey league for the 2018-2019 season.
In a news release the owners said after severing ties with the Federal Hockey League after this past season, they approached Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey, which they described as a much better and more respected league. The release said the proximity, level of hockey, and old-time rough and tumble style of LNAH, which is based in Quebec, seemed like a good fit for Berlin.
Mark Dorval, one of the owners, said LNAH is a lot more competitive than the Federal Hockey League.
“This is good news,” he said.
Negotiations have been underway, and officials from the league visited Berlin. But with the league draft on Aug. 5 and camp starting a little over a month later, the release said time became a factor. The parties decided the smartest decision was to wait until the 2018-2019 season for Berlin to join the league. In the meantime, the league and local owners will continue to work out details.
Dorval said the league plays a 36-game schedule, with 18 home games and 18 away games. He said the league has agreed that a majority of Berlin’s home games will be on Saturday night.
There currently are seven teams in the league, all located in Quebec. Berlin team would be the first United States team in the league.
One major factor is the proximity of the other teams to Berlin. Dorval said the farthest team will be a six-hour drive, compared to a 22-hour drive in the old league.
The ownership said it wanted to thank its sponsors for being enthusiastic about supporting a team in a league better suited for Berlin and embracing the history of hockey here.
“This will be a great opportunity for sponsors and fans alike to collaborate and encourage prospective parties to continue the hockey movement that has begun,” the release said.
The owners said they understood many fans were dismayed when they left the Federal Hockey League and will be disappointed to miss the upcoming hockey season. But they said if all goes according to plan, professional hockey will return.
According to Wikipedia, the LNAH league has the reputation of being the world’s toughest hockey league. A New York Times article said it averaged 3.2 fights a game during the 2010-11 season.
The River Drivers completed two seasons in Berlin and made it to the championship finals in its second season. The team attracted a loyal and enthusiastic fan base, and attendance grew with 400 to 500 people regularly attending their games.