ROLLER HOCKEY HUB
Fraser, MI – Bob Hall and Rob Valicevic stood inside a bar perched above Fraser Arena Monday night, beaming as their new Detroit Dragons logo was revealed and the possibilities of their new venture grew clearer.
By the summer of 2019, the two entrepreneurs and hockey coaches expect their Dragon franchise and this 3,000-seat arena to host the inaugural game of the National Roller Hockey League.
It'll be part history. It'll be part future. It'll be mostly, they say, a lot of fun.
"We'll be creating an event, it's going to be more than 'just a hockey game,'" Valicevic said. "Tailgating, beer tents, Dragon-sponsored corn hole tournaments and more in the parking lot prior to the game. It'll be family friendly.
"And the hockey will be fast."
Excessively fast. That's roller hockey though, ice hockey's faster and more extreme cousin and a sport the NRHL believes it can capitalize on across the country. It's not just ice hockey that's become more popular through the year. So too has roller hockey, played in all corners of the world in part because its more affordable and accessible.
What's been missing, league co-founders Matt Wiedenhoeft and Robert Clouston, is an elite professional league to showcase the finest the game's finest athletes. They ran a two-year beta test league earlier this decade to work plans out and now expect the NRHL to thrive – part X-Games caliber video content, part can't-miss live action.
"Fans who will watch roller hockey at this level will be amazed," promised Clouston, who had a lengthy career as a minor league ice hockey player. "It's just as skilled as ice hockey but there is an extreme sports element too, guys can ride the boards and push the boundaries. It's incredible."
They have the game – which is already played via collegiate club leagues and international tournaments. They have the players – a combination of great roller and ice hockey players. They have, thanks to the internet, the ability to deliver the game around the world – interest on their website comes not just from the United States and Canada, but Germany, Russia, China and so on.
And with the arrival of the Detroit Dragons, they have their first franchise inked and ready to go.
"It's only fitting for Detroit to be our first franchise," Wiedenhoeft said. "The NRHL is based in Detroit and, of course, Detroit is Hockey Town."
On Monday, the new owners looked over the smartly-sized venue here in suburban of Detroit and envisioned fans filling the seats after tailgating during a festive pre-game scene outside. There will be merchandise, concessions, alcohol sales and in-game events and post-game autograph sessions for kids.
This is a grassroots sport, planning a summer schedule, designed by and for fans of the game. The players will be paid, but costs are conservative and mindful of being a start-up. For Hall and Valicevic the opportunity was too good to pass up. As the first franchisees, they get the first pick in the 2019 player draft as well as the right to host the inaugural game and first all-star game.
Mostly though, they see a passion play with huge potential profitability. The product, they say, is solid and a market to consume it, via the internet or in person, is waiting.
"We expect to create an environment every hockey fan will want to be part of," Hall said.
The NRHL said it will be announcing additional franchises in the weeks to come and are talking to potential ownership groups from Long Island to Los Angeles and nearly everywhere in between. Calls, according to Clouston, are coming in daily.
"The response," Clouston said, "has been unbelievable. Overwhelming really. Roller hockey's time is now."
Monday, though, was a night for the Detroit Dragons, the first ones in and the first ones who can start planning for what is to come.
"We will take the backgrounds Rob and I have as players, coaches and entrepreneurs to create an experience roller hockey fans have not seen," Hall said.
The Detroit Dragons will play its home games at Fraser Hockeyland beginning in May 2019. Visit their website www.detroitdragons.net for further information. Also, find the Dragons on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The National Roller Hockey League is the only professional inline hockey league in North America. For more information, visit our website at www.thenationalrollerhockeyleague.com and find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.rmation.