The Chicago Express hockey team is ready to skate into its inaugural season on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Sears Centre, and everyone from the players to the owner says they are confident that this year will be successful.
The Express, an ECHL franchise, is working to avoid pitfalls encountered by the Hounds, a United Hockey League team that folded in 2007 after just one season in Hoffman Estates.
The team hopes to establish a fan base within the competitive world of Chicago sports, said general manager Wade Welsh at an Express media event Tuesday.
"It's definitely going to be difficult," he said. "We have our work cut out for us. But we also believe there is a niche market out here in the Northwest suburbs, that there is a hockey following. We're excited to get going."
Welsh said the games will be a "great place for the kids" and a good value for families, with ticket prices averaging between $8 and $15 and deals occurring throughout the season, such as $1 beers and $1 hot dogs at Friday night home games. The Express is aiming to have an average attendance between 3,500 to 4,000 people per game, Welsh said.
He noted that goal tending is the biggest question moving into the season, which spans from October to April, but that fans can expect to see players with "size and physicality, along with speed."
Two of the players call the Chicago suburbs home -- left wing Mike Embach, 23, of Orland Park, and defender Josh Burrows, also 23, of Prairie Grove.
"It's nice to be close to home again," Burrows said, adding he sees a lot of talent in his teammates. "We have a really good mix of grit and toughness and skill.
"The more fun we have out there, the more fun the fans have out there and its great for the organization," he added. "We definitely want to entertain."
Owner Craig Drecktrah said visitors will not only be impressed with the players' skills, but also with the way head coach Steve Martinson leads the team.
"His teams are usually up there in goals, No. 1 in goals, but they're also up there and No. 1 in penalty minutes," he said with a smile. "You'll see some good, old-fashioned hockey. (Fans) can go see almost the same product as the Wolves, except we're going to be much cheaper, much more family-friendly, and as enjoyable."
The Chicago Wolves, which has its home opener this Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont declined to comment. The team is one step up the minor league hierarchy from the Express and one step below the major league teams like the Chicago Blackhawks.
In his 15 years as a head coach, the Express' Martinson has never missed a postseason. He led the Elmira Jackals in New York through their first three ECHL seasons and his teams have won six championships.
"I've always said I've had the same team for 15 years, just the names have changed," Martinson said, adding that the Express roster is filled with top college and AHL players. "We're going to make the playoffs. We're coming in to win it."
The Express play the Kalamazoo Wings on opening night, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. Giveaways include train whistles and magnet schedules. Fans are welcome to join the team for a free postgame skate. For information visit chicagoexpresshockey.com.