Delaware Thunder aims to bring hard-nosed pro hockey to Harrington

Thunder president/general manager Charlie Pens addresses the crowd during an introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon at Delaware State Fairgrounds Centre Ice Arena. Submitted photo/Danny Aguilar

HARRINGTON — When the newly-launched Delaware Thunder ice hockey team makes its debut this October, Charlie Pens already has a good idea of what the team will look and play like — even before the roster is assembled.

“I want to have the toughest team in the league, and I want hard-working guys,” explained Pens. “Every night, every game, the fans are going to be entertained. It’s going to be a tough team, a physical team and we’re going to bring the entertainment for the fans in Delaware.”

The Thunder, the newest member of the Federal Hockey League, was officially introduced with a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Delaware State Fairgrounds Centre Ice Arena.

Pens, the team’s majority owner, president and general manager, addressed the crowd at the noon event, answering questions and officially unveiling the team’s logo and jersey.

“The press conference was heavily attended, and there were a lot of people who came to me after the conference and said this was exactly what we needed in Delaware, in particular lower Delaware,” said Pens.

The Federal Hockey League is a nine-team professional ice hockey league, with teams located in eight different states, ranging from New York, North Carolina, Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Georgia.

The league, founded in 2010, is one of four hockey leagues across the country that sit below the National Hockey League, joining the American Hockey League (AHL), East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

The Harrington-based hockey squad, one of the league’s three new teams this season, will play a schedule of 28 games with all home games being played at the Delaware State Fairgrounds Centre Ice Arena.

Pens, a former semi-pro hockey player, has been a skills coach at the Delaware State Fairgrounds Centre Ice Rink — now renamed Centre Ice Arena with the addition of the Thunder — for nearly a decade now. His Delaware Prep ice hockey team has practiced and played there for the last three years.

Delaware State Fair general manager Bill DiMondi, left, and Thunder president/general manager Charlie Pens hold up the Delaware Thunder’s official jersey at Wednesday’s press conference.

Delaware Prep, directed and coached by Pens and his staff, is a preparatory hockey program for kids in eighth grade through post-grad who are looking for junior and college hockey opportunities, according to its official website delawareprephockey.com.

“Delaware Prep is a preparatory academy for kids in high school, so kids come from all over the United States and Canada to play for us at the State Fair arena,” Pens explained. “We’re going into our fourth year with the program, which is considered the top prep program in Delaware.”

Pens wanted to bring professional hockey to Delaware five years ago, but he didn’t think it was ready for it just yet. He believes the success of the prep program has helped prepare the Centre Ice Arena and town of Harrington to house pro hockey.

“This is the natural progression,” he said. “I’ve been working as a skills coach at the Delaware State Fair arena now for about eight, nine years and I’ve been at work with the Delaware Roughriders, Salisbury University, I’ve worked with Wesley College when they had a program there and I do clinics.

“We’ve built the program; we’ve built the youth hockey, and this was really the final step in building a hockey culture down here.”
The team will hold its first official camp Oct. 14, but before that can happen Pens will need to build his team of players.

Between the FHL free agent camp in Toronto and the Delaware Thunder’s free agent camp in Philadelphia in July, Pens hopes to assemble a roster of gritty, hard-nosed players to put on the ice in October.

“If the player doesn’t want to work hard, if he doesn’t want to be a blue collar, lunch pail kind of guy, Delaware Thunder wouldn’t be interested in him,” said Pens.

He’s also set to attend a Philadelphia Flyers free agent camp, put on by one of the Flyers’ coaches, in Lancaster, Pa. in order to find a few more players who fit his vision for the team.

“I’m also reaching out to kids who I coached at the college level, junior level, and guys who I’ve watched for many, many years,” said Pens. “I’m going to build my own team. The greatest thing about it is it’s a blank canvas.”

In addition to putting together the roster, Pens is also in the process of assembling the front office staff and finding a head coach.
The Delaware State Fair will be accommodating the Thunder by bringing in extra seating for its home games this fall.

“Our goal is to pack the house,” said Pens. “I want to have the loudest, most raucous group of fans in the league.”

For more information and updates about the team or its upcoming debut season, check out the official website at delawarethunder.com.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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