While Fort Wayne is considered one of the hockey capitals of the U.S., at least for cities without an NHL team, John Finch and his business partners saw something missing -- a Junior A team.
Finch formally announced Monday the creation of the Fort Wayne Spacemen, which will play in the United States Premier Hockey League beginning this season.
“It’s the gap. It’s what’s missing in Fort Wayne hockey,” said Finch, who is part of the ownership group and will serve as president and general manager of the Spacemen. “We have a terrific youth program, a terrific high-school program and then it jumps to college. And with the model of hockey, players need to get Junior A experience in between high school and college.
“We think Fort Wayne is a hockey hotbed and there are plenty of fans who will support the team, welcome these young players into our community, and we hope to become a real asset.”
There will be a 44-game season with home games at the SportONE/Parkview Icehouse running September to March.
The owners include three Fort Wayne residents -- Finch, Todd Ramsey and Todd Hensley. There’s also Chicago-based John Schwarz, who is part of the ownership of five franchises in the USPHL.
“Our primary goal is to get players to college hockey. We think Fort Wayne is a fantastic landing spot because of the exceptional college teams in our area,” said Finch, who envisions Spacemen players, ages 17 to 21, coming from around the world.
“We do think that the Fort Wayne Spacemen will eventually be a benefit for some of our local players to stay home and play Junior A. And maybe one day, one of our alumni will come back and play pro hockey for the Komets.”
Speaking of the Komets, it’s not a coincidence that the orange-and-black color scheme coincides with Fort Wayne’s pro team in the ECHL. The Komets, who have played for 67 years, have also used a Spaceman as a logo at various times through the years.
Former Komets owner Colin Lister helped get Finch involved in youth hockey at the former McMillen Ice Arena and Finch was coached by the likes of Len Thornson and George Drysdale. Finch’s son was coached at the Icehouse by former Komets captains Colin Chaulk and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock.
Finch's day job is in biotech sales to veterinarians, and he has been a hockey adviser for seven years, helping to place players with college teams. He believes the level of coaching in Fort Wayne is superb, and some of it extends from the participation of current and former Komets players.
“It’s not just a bunch of dads coaching,” he said.
This isn’t Fort Wayne’s first foray into Junior A hockey; the Federals played at the Icehouse from 2010 to 2015 in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League and the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, which was partially absorbed by the USPHL.
The difference here, Finch said, is local ownership “that understands the market in Fort Wayne and junior hockey. That was an absentee owner, and I don’t think he ever related to the community enough to generate fan support.”
The Spacemen hope to have a coach in place within two weeks. Players will reside in either billet housing or apartments. Ticket prices have yet to be set, though the team has a website -- www.fwspacemen.com.
The USPHL, founded in 2012, has 61 teams, including the Minnesota Blue Ox, which is based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and is owned by Bruce Boudreau, the coach of the NHL's Minnesota Wild and a former player and coach with the Komets.
The Blue Ox produced Oskari Halme, who played last season for the Komets. Former Komets player Jeff Worlton coaches the Dell Ducks, a Schwarz-owned team in Lake Delton, Wisconsin.
The Spacemen will be in a division with teams from Dyer; Brownstown and Fraser, Michigan; and Decatur and West Dundee, Illinois.
The Icehouse is already home to youth, high-school, recreational and Indiana Tech hockey.