The Board of the Governors of the United States Hockey League, USA Hockey's only Tier I-sanctioned league, announced Wednesday that membership in the league has been approved for a franchise to play in Columbus beginning in the 2006-07 season. The team will play its home games at 18,136-seat Nationwide Arena, home of the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The club will be operated by Ohio Junior Hockey, Inc., led by the Cleveland-area Goebel family, with game and arena operations managed by the Blue Jackets. The team name, logo, head coach, schedule and ticketing information will be announced at a press conference in the next several weeks.
"This is a great opportunity to grow hockey in the state of Ohio and bring a new level of the game to the state for the first time," said Thomas Goebel. "We want Ohio kids to be able to stay at home and play. With three Division I hockey programs in the state (Ohio State, Miami, Bowling Green), this will provide these kids with tremendous exposure to not only those schools, but other Division I institutions as well."
"The USHL is the premier hockey league in the United States for players ages 16 to 20 and it is exciting for the growth of the game to have a team playing in Columbus,” said Blue Jackets President/General Manager Doug MacLean. "One of our goals has been to develop Central Ohio as a hockey hotbed and this USHL franchise, along with the AAA teams, youth programs and other grass roots initiatives that are thriving in Central Ohio, all contribute to that goal."
The Columbus team will be the league's 12th active franchise and will participate in the 2006 USHL Draft on Thursday. Don Harkins, who currently serves as the team's director of hockey operations and will have a management role with the franchise, will oversee player selection. Columbus will select fourth at this year's draft behind Chicago, Waterloo and Sioux City. The other teams in the USHL are located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Des Moines, Iowa; Green Bay, Wisc.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Kearney, Neb.; Lincoln, Neb.; Omaha, Neb. and Sioux Falls, SD.
“The USHL is excited to welcome an organization surrounded by such great business people and great hockey people,” said USHL President Gino Gasparini. “Columbus’ entry into our league not only strengthens the USHL, but opens doors for even more young athletes as they pursue their collegiate and professional dreams.”
The USHL, which is in its 27th year as the country's premier development league, holds the highest classification of U.S. junior hockey with an emphasis on preparing players for the NCAA Division I college ranks and the NHL. Each year, the league sends over 100 players to Division I colleges on hockey scholarships and has 15 players selected in the NHL Entry Draft on average. All players must be 20 years of age or under before the current season begins. The USHL averages more than one million in attendance each season with teams playing a 60-game regular season schedule. Among USHL alumni currently playing in the NHL are Blue Jackets defensemen Rostislav Klesla (Sioux City) and Duvie Westcott (Omaha). For more information on the USHL, visit www.ushl.com