In March, the ownership of the Dayton Gems called a press conference to confirm what most of the media and fans knew, the Central Hockey League franchise was in deep financial trouble and needed additional investors or would risk having to fold. Alas, the nightmare scenario came true as on Thursday, the club released a statement saying they would indeed be ceasing operations. This signals the end of a tumultuous run for the Gems, covering two leagues and three ownership groups over just three seasons.
The team started out in 2009 and spent one season as a member of the revived International Hockey League, which after a short, disastrous run was absorbed into the Central Hockey League. While in the IHL, the league board stripped ownership rights from the Gems initial owners and ran the team themselves until they could find local ownership. The group GDHP, LLC came forward in the '09-'10 season and navigated the team moving to the CHL, keeping ownership of the franchise until this week. The group, consisting of Ron Garfield, Kathy Rupp, and Dr. Paul Nitz put in a valiant effort after they took over the team, growing attendance over the past couple seasons, while increasing group sales and corporate support. The group had long been searching for additional investors, local and otherwise, to help offset their losses but couldn't find anyone willing to commit. Another factor that didn't help was the coming situation in which the Gems closest rivals in the league, the Fort Wayne Komets and Evansville IceMen had long been rumored to be leaving the Central Hockey League to jump to the ECHL. Not to overstate the importance of this move, but the Gems announcement on Thursday came a day after the Komets and IceMen officially announced they would be joining the ECHL.
The consolation prize for Dayton hockey fans is that apparently a Federal Hockey League team will take the Gems place. They'll play at Hara Arena and have a press conference tentatively planned for the end of May to officially announce their plans. It's also possible the team's identity will be unveiled, as well. The Federal League is considered an A-level league, and up to this point, primarily consisted of teams in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. While it's a shame to lose the Gems, at least there will still be hockey played in this market. Some fans look to the renewed success that Toledo, Ohio has had with the ECHL's Walleye and the downtown arena, the Huntington Center as a model for revitalizing their market. However, the economy of the Miami Valley has struggled and it is growing increasingly difficult to convince voters and politicians to make that kind of investment. Dayton has a good history of supporting its minor league baseball Dragons, and college basketball at the University of Dayton and Wright State University, hopefully local hockey fans will support this new endeavor.