FLINT — A United States Hockey League franchise could eventually be calling Perani Arena home if a new investor can pull all the pieces together.
Costa Papista, President of IMS US, INC and Captain Rolf Nilsen, founder and owner of IMS INC, detailed what could happen in the next couple years after their major announcement Tuesday. The investors committed up to $3 million to improve Perani and Iceland Arenas and to jump start hockey in the area.
IMS USA INC, based in Cape Coral, Fla. is one of four international manufacturing hubs for sliding water tight doors and high tech industrial products for shipping and offshore industries. IMS USA INC has facilities in Norway, Germany, Vietnam and the U.S.
So how does that relate to hockey? Papista, who was the General Manager for the first Saginaw Spirit team, and Nilsen, a sponsor of Little Caesars youth hockey and the Red Wings Alumni Association are hockey lovers.
“It’s a great day for hockey,” said Nilsen. “Firland Management did a good job of starting upgrades at both arenas (Perani and Flint Iceland) and we will retain our relationship with them on a consulting level as we make the next step in upgrading Perani to make it attractive and suitable for a top level hockey team with improved weight room, player facilities, offices and outside upgrades. I hope I can be the person to help put Flint back on the map for hockey and for Flint to be the best place in the nation for hockey. I will need everyone’s help to make that happen, but we know the area wants that caliber of hockey again.”
Nilsen said the next step is to build a priority list of projects, especially at Perani Arena.
“I want to try to utilize the building more,” he added. “More than 80,000 cars pass by this arena every day and we will start with new signage on I-69. We especially want to bring more kids into the sport and the high school teams (Grand Blanc and Davison) will stay. We will work with the local hockey associations to build a strong program and build on that with a USHL team to start.”
The Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League will be managed by IMS USA INC for the remainder of its season then options will be explored to either move them to Iceland or sell the team for relocation or whatever other viable option looks good said Nilsen. A renewed effort to bring more concerts, indoor soccer and hockey tournaments is also on Nilsen’s short list to make better use of the arena.
Papista has his own list of priorities and number one is upgrading the outside of Perani Arena starting with the lighting and parking lot.
“Our first priority is the sign along I-69, parking and lighting and cosmetically improve the curb appeal from all roads around the arena,” Papista explained. “Then we will focus on the players we want to draw to the area with a high-level franchise for next year. That includes improvements to the coaches, locker and training rooms. We have an application in to the USHL and are also looking at other leagues. Short term, we have partnered with Pat MacEachern and Moe Mantha and will operate the team until Jan. 1. Our long-term plan is up in the air a little as we assess our options. The team could be sold or relocated as a viable option.”
The Saginaw Spirit is a major junior ice hockey team based in Saginaw. Members of the West Division of the Western Conference of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Spirit are in one of the Major Junior leagues of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).
The USHL has 16 teams with players ages 20 and under and just this last year recruited around 35 players to the NHL. Because the USHL is strictly amateur, all players are eligible to play in the NCAA and beyond.