Lewiston will be home to only one junior hockey team for the 2015-16 season.

With the Lewiston-Auburn Fighting Spirit ready to make their debut season at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in the Tier III North American 3 Eastern Hockey League, Colisee owner Jim Cain and Fighting Spirit owner Rod Simmons decided to pull their application for a Tier II North American Hockey League franchise.

“At this time, we have decided to pull our application for the upcoming season for variety of reasons,” Cain said. “We will probably go forward again (with our application), maybe next year (for the 2016-17 season).”

Their application was approved by the NAHL, but there wasn’t enough time for Cain and Simmons to put together a roster and staff in place with the NAHL season usually starting in mid-September.

“It’s one of those things where the timeliness was coming into play where you can get the deal done and operate to try to put a good product on the ice,” Simmons said. “I mean these are things that should have been done months ago. For whatever reason, it didn’t get done. I think because they were trying to get more teams. More teams didn’t come (to the east coast) it slipped through everybody’s fingers.”

Most of the NAHL teams are having pre-draft camps in late May with the Draft being held on Tuesday, June 9. The regular season opens usually in the middle of September.

When the NAHL Front Office visited Lewiston during the NA3EHL Championship Series back in March, it was impressed with what Lewiston had to offer.

“They are very, very high on this market,” Cain said. “Not only with the building itself, but they had nothing but positive comments about the area, the history of the hockey in the market for years and years – the fact we have operated under the junior model before. It was all good in that regard.”

The 24 team Tier II USA Hockey sanctioned junior hockey league is making a shift to the East Coast for the 2015-16 season. The league announced last week the Dawson Creek, British Columbia franchise that has been dormant for the last two seasons was purchased by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights organization. The Soo (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) Eagles will relocate to Middleton, N.J. and be called the New Jersey Junior Titans.

“The thing is Nathan, the team that’s going into New Jersey, is the Soo Eagles,” Simmons said. “All it is, is a relocation. All those teams that are going in there (into new markets), already have teams. We have been approved for a month and we needed to sketch our tryouts so on and so forth because we weren’t a preexisting team.”

Cain said there could be a team added in Philadelphia next season and Simmons said the league was looking to get deals done in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey first.

Cain and Simmons hopes more New England hockey organizations will put in an application.

“We are hoping one pops up in New Hampshire and again in the greater Boston area,” Cain said. We have been working on this issues months and months now.”

The NAHL is one of the top feeders to NCAA Division I hockey, with 126 athletes committed to play college hockey in the future, including three future University of Maine Black Bears: Mitchell Fossier of the Janesville Jets, defenseman Sam Becker of the Minnesota Magicians and defenseman Konstantin Chernyuk who currently plays for the Wichita Falls Wildcats.

As for the Fighting Spirit and the NA3EHL they have been approved by USA Hockey as a sanctioned Tier III junior league.

“The bottom line there will be more Americans on the team,” Simmons said. “It worked out well for the minor hockey because we have taking over the minor hockey group, it’s all USA Hockey. It works out well as feeder type situation from the minor hockey and up.”

This past season the Fighting Spirit had 10 players outside the United States. Simmons will be focusing on recruiting more players from the Midwestern and western United States.

As for the minor hockey program which is called the L/A Junior Fighting Spirit, Simmons hopes to strengthen the teams.

“We are implementing a grass roots program, we want to make sure we build strong Tier IV (teams), we want to take care of our Tier III (teams) and Tier II’s that we have,” Simmons said. “We want to create more learn to skate and get more kids to have the opportunity to play the game. Hopefully at some point move them up to the Fighting Spirit.”


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