Delaware Thunder wrapping up training camp, excited for inaugural season

HARRINGTON – The road to the National Hockey League (NHL) can be long and treacherous, with many stops in between.

For 23 players, the road to the pinnacle of professional ice hockey is set to continue Oct. 25, when the Delaware Thunder take the ice at the Centre Ice Arena at the Delaware State Fairgrounds for its inaugural game against the Columbus River Dragons.

The Thunder, led by president and general manager Charlie Pens Sr., is one of the three newest members of the 10-team Federal Prospects Hockey League – also sometimes just referred to as the Federal Hockey League.

The FPHL, founded in 2009 and making its debut in Nov. 2010, is a Single-A Minor League Hockey league, which acts as a lower-level developmental league for the NHL.

Some players may have decided to continue the treacherous road just to be able to play the game they love, while others hope to use a stop in Harrington as a stepping-stone to take the leap to the next level of minor professional league hockey.

“The fan support has been great, the corporate support has been fantastic,” said Pens Sr. “The people are excited about it. I’m pumped – if I didn’t own the team, I’d be a season ticket holder. These guys, the talent level here is fantastic.”

The team opens its inaugural season with a pair of home games against Columbus Friday, Oct. 25 and Saturday, Oct. 26. The puck is slated to drop at 7 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

The team opened its final training camp this week, with two-a-day workouts at the Centre Ice Arena beginning Monday and wrapping up today. The team will travel up to Watertown, N.Y. Friday night for an exhibition game.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Pens Sr. “We started out in Toronto at the league’s main camp, then we did our free agent camp in Philadelphia and here we are today.

The current roster, which was built through the expansion draft, free agency and scouting, includes just one local player – Charlie’s son, Charlie Pens Jr.

Pens Jr., a 31-year-old defenseman, played travel hockey with the Newark-area Delaware Chiefs as a child.

“I’m pretty fortunate to play in my home state, so I’m pretty excited for that,” Pens Jr. said. “But I’ve played with some of these guys before and that honestly may make me even more excited. We have a great spot here – guys I’ve played with, guys I haven’t played with. We have a lot of skilled players here.”

The remainder of the roster is made up of players from across the globe, including the United States, Taipei, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Canada and Russia.

With 23 on the current roster, Pens Sr. will trim it down to about 20 guys, meaning he still has a few more cuts to make in the next few days.

A handful of players, including Pens Jr., spent last season in the FPHL with the Danville Dashers before being selected by the Thunder in the team’s expansion draft.

Alex Basey, Ryan Marker, Taylor Cutting, Eric Masters and Brandon Contratto are among some of the Thunder players who played in Danville with Pens last season.

The previous experience of having already played together for a few years has made it much easier for the team to mesh prior to the start of the regular season.

“I’ve played with a lot of these guys, so you kind of pick up on their tendencies when you play with them for a while,” said Cutting. “The intensity and the level of play has been really good for it being the team’s first year. We have a great group of guys on the ice right now.”

Basey, a 24-year-old from Oshawa, Ontario, was excited about the opportunity to come to Harrington and lace up his skates.

“It’s a new place to play, I was excited,” he said. “I had heard nothing but good things about coming out here – the arena’s great, everyone’s being treated well, everything that’s been promised is happening. I’m excited about it.”

Marker, a 24-year-old Philadelphia native, is excited to have his family close by.

“This is a big deal because all my family can come watch the game,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for a lot of us. We have a lot of great hockey players around this area, so for there to be a pro team is huge.”

Contratto has been around the league for six years and has yet to see an expansion team with as much talent as this Delaware squad has this year.

“I’ve been around a lot of expansion teams – I’ve been around this league a while – and it’s definitely the most skilled and best group of guys I’ve seen from an expansion team so far,” Contratto said.

While Contratto is originally from Michigan, he works in the Philadelphia area and says he plays with Marker and Cutting a lot during the offseason.

For a full schedule, roster or to buy tickets to a game, visit delawarethunder.com.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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