FLINT — After a few long months of awaiting the identity of Flint’s new Ontario Hockey League franchise, a press conference was called for 10 a.m. in the lobby of Perani Arena on Monday morning to unveil the team name, logo, colors and uniform design. Franchise ownership chose to go with a name that was submitted to the naming contest 38 times, the Flint Firebirds.
“This is a very exciting day, said IMS Hockey President Costa Papista at the press conference. “It’s another chapter in our brief history of bringing the Ontario Hockey League to Flint and Genesee County. We launched a name the team contest on Feb. 4, and from Feb. 4-11, in total we had close to 5,000 submissions. (They came) from all over. Not just from Flint and Genesee (County) but from all over the region, and actually, from all over North America. We have about 150 11×17 pages of not just names but rationales. People really took the time to tell us why they suggested a particular name.”
The process to get to this point was beginning to wear on area hockey enthusiasts, but legal ramifications forced the announcement of the name to be put on hold for a few weeks. All in all, the OHL was trying to ensure that the franchise and the league would get legal clearance for the Firebirds name in both the United States and Canada.
“We have a community advisory board made up of about 20 people,” added Papista. “Collectively we went through and this was really a laborious process but a very worthwhile one because this is the kind of decision that is absolutely critical and worth all of the time and energy and effort. In the end we made a selection.”
Submitting the winning name, though, guaranteed that particular person two free season tickets for the 2015- 16 campaign. He also helped unveil the logos to the crowd of people in the back of Perani Arena’s lobby.
“The name that was selected was chosen by 38 individuals,” Papista continued. “So we randomly drew and we have our contest winner with us today, his name is Tom Barden, sitting in the front row. Tom is a veteran, he is also a retired General Motors employee.”
The process began late last year when IMS-Hockey USA, led by owner Rolf Nilsen and Costa Papista, purchased Flint’s Perani Arena and vowed several renovations, as well as a higher-level hockey team than the arena’s current tenant, the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League.
Initially, it appeared as if IMS would bring in a United States Hockey League team, the highest level of US-based junior hockey. However, when the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers announced their intentions to sell and relocate the team, the focus turned toward bringing an OHL team to Flint, which is the highest level of junior hockey in the world.
Basically, Flint’s chances of landing the Plymouth franchise came down to a comparison of arenas between the cities of Flint and Chatham, Ontario. While Chatham may be in Canada, the most hockey crazy country in the world, there is an abundance of hockey fans in the Flint-area, as well. Not to mention the fact that Chatham’s rink is twice as old as Perani Arena and only has half of the seating capacity. The sale became official on Feb. 2 and the naming contest began on Feb. 4.
Although there were thousands of submissions of names for the new franchise, it appeared over the last few weeks that only 10 were being seriously considered, as IMS registered each one with the state’s department of regulatory affairs.
Those names, along with Firebirds, included Flint Force, Flint Nationals, Flint Vikings, Flint United, Flint Sparks, Flint Spark Plugs, Flint Pride, and two names that brought along copyright issues, Flint Tropics and Flint Fury.
Obviously, Tropics presented legal issues with the fact that the name is owned by Warner Bros, which produced the 2008 Will Ferrell movie “Semi- Pro”, in which Ferrell owned, coached and played power forward for his own Flint Tropics team. The Flint Fury, though, is already a semi-pro football team in the Great Lakes Football League and have played at Atwood Stadium with the Fury name since 2003.
Flint’s Perani Arena, formerly the IMA Sports Arena, has a long history of hosting hockey franchises, including the International Hockey League’s Flint Generals (1969-85) and Flint Spirits (1985-90), the Colonial Hockey League’s Flint Bulldogs (1991-93), the Colonial/United/International Hockey League’s Flint Generals (1993-2010) and the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors (2010-2015).
Papista said the next three items to tick off the To-Do list are the season ticket campaign, which launched Monday, the Firebirds’ hockey department, which will be announced soon is preparing for the April 1 draft and the facility renovations at Perani will kick into an expedited phase starting with signage on I-69 and the parking lot.