The Boys are Back in Town

Dayton hockey finds new life after losing the Demonz

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Dayton Demolition player Harry Mahesh gets rowdy on the ice; photo: Haynes Photography

It’s a busy Thursday night at the Englewood BW3’s. Waitresses and bartenders hustle around the dining room floor, delivering hot wings and beer. Two young boys run around, parents nowhere to be found. One puts a quarter in a video game that requires a dollar. He fires the plastic shotgun at the screen, but the missing 75 cents will keep him from actually playing.

In the corner, a computer, a mixer and a series of microphones are strewn out on a table. Lee Mowen and Timothy King are talking about Dayton’s latest professional hockey team, the Dayton Demolition. They almost blend into the scenery, as they produce an Internet radio show that serves as a precursor to the team’s season. All the while, fans line up to pick up their season tickets just days before opening night.

Just a couple months ago, none of this seemed like it would be happening.

The Dayton Devils began play in 2012. They eventually changed their name to the Demonz and played in Hara for three years, bringing home a championship during the 2013-2014 season. The team had consistently been among the league’s best, earning playoff trips in every year of their existence.

The summer of 2015 would bring big changes. In July, when the organization would normally begin gearing up season ticket sales and hammering down a promotional schedule, owner Barry Soskin decided to move the team to Port Huron, Michigan.

Dylan Kuhn runs the team’s various social media accounts and serves as the intern manager. He said the entire organization was thrown into chaos.

“It was a rollercoaster of an offseason,” Kuhn said. “First, we learned that the Demonz were leaving. We didn’t know where they were going, we just knew they weren’t going to be back. There was about a month or so where we sat around and waited for the process to go through.”

Brett Wall agreed.

“It was definitely a shock,” Wall said. “I’m not even going to lie—literally a week before I found out there was going to be a team here in Dayton, I was still talking with Port Huron. I didn’t know if there was going to be a team here or not. I didn’t want to be in a situation where I didn’t have a place to play because I was waiting for something.”

Wall grew up in West Carrolton and Huber Heights. He and his family used to watch the Bombers at Hara when he was as young as four. They sat in section 12, which Wall remembers as the “rowdy section” of the arena. At 14, he moved to Chicago for prep school before playing junior hockey in Minnesota and eventually for Division I college Lake Superior State.

He came home to Dayton and helped the Demonz during their championship year. He now serves as a player/assistant coach, as well as helping with marketing and sales and serving as a liaison between the board of directors and the Dayton Stealth, the area’s youth hockey organization.

Before each home game, he returns back to section 12. It is a pregame ritual that includes eating Skittles and looking out on the ice from where he sat all those years ago.

“I’ve always been a Dayton kid, through and through,” Wall said. “Dayton is a place that I’m really proud to be from and to represent on the weekends.”

Head coach Jack Collins has been a mainstay of Dayton hockey through the years. He helped coach the Bombers back when Wall was sitting in section 12. Collins even coached Wall in the local youth hockey ranks.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to coach with Coach [Jack] Collins,” Wall said. “I’ve been around him for a bit. It’s a thrill and a true blessing.”

Many in the organization consider it a blessing to even put a team on the ice in town.

When Soskin made the move to Port Huron, he took everything but the kitchen sink: the head coach, many of the players and even the season ticket sales records that served no real purpose in Michigan. The prospects looked bleak.

Enter Bill Dadds.

Dadds formerly owned the Berkshire Battalion of Massachusetts. He announced in early July that he was bringing his team to Dayton, and the remaining front office staff began to scramble.

Staff was hired and the process of building a team began. They were finally able to begin selling season tickets in September, just two months before the start of the season. The hectic schedule was a struggle, but all involved praise Dadds for his hands-on attitude and commitment to what amounts to a whole new organization.

“I think what makes him such a good owner for us is he does this with a passion,” Wall said. “He is a fan at his core and he’s grown up with the game. He’s just one of those guys that truly gets involved in it and is excited about it. He’s happy to know that things are going well and he’s very supportive. It’s always a good thing when the owner is your biggest fan. That makes things a million times easier for us in the office and on the ice.”

In addition to the play on the ice, the team has put a concerted effort to provide a steady flow of entertainment as well. Opening night saw American Idol semi-finalist Alexis Gomez singing the national anthem. Virtually every home game offers a wide variety of events, according to Timmy King, the team’s entertainment manager.

“To set us apart from the last couple seasons, we want to bring in a lot of entertainment—make it more family friendly,” King said. “We’re just trying to keep it fun, so when you walk through the doors, you’re getting more than just the hockey game.”

February features a breast cancer awareness fundraiser coordinated by the Demolition Booster Club. They will auction off jerseys, with the proceeds going to several cancer organizations. On Feb. 25, King has a special event planned that he cannot announce until the end of the Ohio State football season. A good bet would be on a local hero making a triumphant return.

They also have military appreciation nights, first responder nights and a teddy bear toss.

“The first goal scored, fans will throw tons and tons of new teddy bears on the ice,” King said. “The players will pick them up and we deliver them to Children’s Medical Center.”

While the excitement about a new beginning for Dayton hockey may fill the air, the story of professional hockey in Dayton stretches back decades.

It all began with the Dayton Gems in 1964. Calling Trotwood’s Hara Arena home, that team would win three Turner Cups, the championship trophy of the International Hockey League. Hara also carries the distinction of hosting the first professional game of the sport’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky. The Great One played his first ever exhibition game here as a member of the Indianapolis Racers against the Cincinnati Stingers. The Gems folded in 1980.

More than a decade later, the Dayton Bombers brought hockey back to Hara. They eventually moved to the Nutter Center. Along the way, teams like the Ice Bandits and another go-around as the Gems would call Dayton home.

Virtually from the beginning, Sandy Shiverdecker has been there.

She first attended a game in the late 1960s, as a guest of her boss. Initially, she didn’t care for the sport. Like most people watching a new sport, she didn’t understand the rules or strategies. Her boss was undeterred.

“She said ‘you and your sister come again, you can sit right behinds us and we’ll kind of explain,’” Shiverdecker said. “There was a big fight, and that’s all it took. I loved the fights.”

Shiverdecker was hooked. She said when the Bombers left Hara for the Nutter Center, she vowed to never go again, but that didn’t last long. Eventually, she was working part time in the Bombers office. King has dubbed her the “Dayton hockey guru.”

She now works with the Demolition on season ticket sales. She said sales have been steady for this season, especially considering the late start after the Demonz left.

She thinks that some fans are taking a wait-and-see approach, but many worries were alleviated when the team traded for a fan favorite player that had moved to Port Huron. Defenseman Brian Marks was returned to Dayton for two players. Those players were immediately called up, leaving Port Huron with no players to show for losing Marks, Dayton’s team captain the past two seasons and a three-time all-league pick who consistently ranks as the top scoring defenseman in the league.

“He’s this big, ginger-bearded guy,” Kuhn said. “He looks like this tough, mean guy that you don’t mess with, but he’s one of the nicest guys.”

It’s been a long and sometimes stressful road to bring the Demolition to Hara. Some fans may worry about new ownership or the fact that this is the second franchise to startup in town since 2012. While starting over virtually guarantees some growing pains, it also allows for a fresh start. In a community with such a long and storied history with the game, the support will come.

You see it in the faces of fans at the Englewood BW3 as they interact with players and coaches. You hear it in the voice of a kid who used to sit in section 12 in the Bombers heyday.

“Dayton hockey is still in great hands,” Wall said. “I don’t want to say this is a hockey hotbed, but it’s definitely an area that enjoys hockey and has put out some strong products lately.”

The Dayton Demolition play home games at Hara Arena. They play a 28-game home schedule. Tickets are $11 for adults and $8.50 for kids. For more information, including statistics, schedules and rosters, visit demolitionhockey.com. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “The Boys are Back in Town” Subscribe

  1. dominic bocchicchio November 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    For those who may have concern of the new ownership…. I have known Bill Dadds all my life and he talks from the heart… He truly loves the game and is committed to a long-term successful experience…. Sit back and enjoy the ride you are all in great hands…

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