WILLIAMSPORT(AP) â?? Twenty days and counting â?? that's how long it will be before the first professional hockey team in city history plays at an ice rink outdoors.
It's an eagerly anticipated opening night for the Williamsport Outlaws, formerly of Wayne, N.J., current champions of the six-city Federal Hockey League.
The team welcomes the Dayton Devils, of Dayton, Ohio, at 7:05 p.m. Oct. 24 at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field.
Groundbreaking and construction of the ice rink began this week. Training camp begins Oct. 14, enabling hockey fans or the curious to see the players for free, said Chris Firriollo, Outlaws head coach.
The Federal Hockey League, established five years ago, includes teams sited at Danbury, Conn.; Hyannis, Mass.; Watertown, N.Y.; Dayton, Ohio; and Danville, Ill.
Williamsport, he said, fit the geographical footprint after which the league models itself.
On paper, Williamsport had all of the key variables and ingredients to make up a strong minor league sports town.
"We knew it would be a big hockey town, with National Hockey League Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins fans abounding," he said. "It was the right size, but the problem was no ice arena or ice rink."
That has changed, as the joint effort by the Williamsport Ice Arena non-profit organization, the Outlaws, and the city takes shape this week.
Tractor-trailers containing equipment are arriving and Rich Cubin, vice president of Rink Specialists, and his crew have started a 12-day process to erect the first ice arena in the city's history.
A platform staging layout, plumbing hook-ups and logistics for the 20,000-square-foot stage have started to take form, said Don Kirnan, organization president.
The ice rink is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 12, just 12 days before the opener and two days before the training camp opens.
Advance ticket sales and word-of-mouth suggest a packed house, but Firriollo also expects plenty of visitors to training camp.
He's also anticipating a good turnout for the 30-night season.
"We think professional hockey will be contagious," he said.
The league's All Star Game on Jan. 2 will be held at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field.
The Outlaws will play the rest of the best players from the five teams.
"We're the defending champions," he said.
The team, which had been at Wayne, N.J., will defend its 2012 Commissioner's Cup Championship.
Along with the Outlaws, the rink will be become the home to its community for the public to use throughout the winter months for public skating, youth hockey and figure skating, adult hockey and numerous outside events, Kirnan said.
Hopes remain for the ice events to be held in permanent facilities next year, with the city hoping to convert the Pickelner Arena into a civic arena with ice.
Until now, the city had no ice rink, but youth organizations have been trying for decades to get an ice pad built, Kirnan said.
Open skating begins Oct. 16 and will be held each night from 7 to 9 p.m. during the week and twice on both Saturdays and Sundays, with extended holiday hours.
"With the availability of Airmen Pond, it allows the availability and the opportunity for the growth of youth figure skating and youth hockey in the Williamsport area," he said. "Training programs for adults who want to coach figure skating and youth hockey have already begun. Also a registration through USA Hockey has already been completed."
A seniors league is expected to be fielded to have four to six teams that will play their games and practice at the complex.
"When people see our youth on the ice, when they see the team and the other opportunities that come with the rink, you will see a tremendous demand," Kirnan said.