A record-breaking Federal Hockey League crowd watched as they were introduced to the newest minor-league franchise in the city on Wednesday night - the Williamsport Outlaws. Opening night wasn't flawless on or off the ice, but more than 3,000 fans entered the gates at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field.
"It exceeded my expectations," said Williamsport Outlaws coach Chris Firriolo. "I don't know if we'll draw 4,000 every game, but it was a great start and it says a lot about the community here."
Williamsport's Rob Sich brought the record-breaking crowd to its feet 6 minutes, 57 seconds into the first professional hockey game in city history when he lifted his stick off the ice behind his head and with one swooping motion returned his stick to the ice where it met the puck. The black circle accelerated over the shoulder of Dayton goalie Gerry Festa and into the back of the net and Airmen Pond at Bowman Field was officially christened.
Dayton, however, responded with four unanswered goals and the defending FHL champions fell to the Dayton Demonz, 5-2.
The question throughout the balmy October day leading up to last night's game was how was the ice was going to survive under temperatures that hovered in the 70s during the day and the upper 60s during the majority of the game. The conditions proved to be better than expected, and although the ice had a glossy shine to it for much of the night, even long after the Zamboni had exited the ice, neither team seemed to be greatly affected and skated up and down the ice with speed and easiness.
"Today was the best the ice has ever been," said Sich. "It had a couple of rough spots, but we've seen a lot worse conditions while we were practicing. They did a hell of a job of preparing the ice for (last) night's game."
One quirk was the makeshift scoreboard that came in Tuesday was considered too small, so the team had a computer image of a scoreboard projected on a white screen. A new permanent scoreboard is expected to be in place sometime next month.
Sich was the first to score last night when he took a pass from Trevor Karasiewicz and buried a shot from near one of the face-off circles in front of Festa.
"That first goal is always the toughest to get," said Sich. "I thought we were going to roll after that, but it was tough coming out on the next shift and they tied it right up. That changed the momentum of the game."
The home crowd had little chance to savor the season-opening lead as Dayton scored just 23 seconds later when Marcus Pryde tipped a shot past Williamsport goalie Chris Whitley.
The Demonz added a second goal in the first period after Whitley allowed a big rebound which found the waiting stick of Mike Hoban who stuffed it home.
Brayden Metz made it 3-1 Dayton with a power-play goal in the second. The Demonz were 0-for-2 on their first two power-play opportunities before Metz tucked in a shot behind Whitley from the doorstep.
Festa was solid throughout the night and made one of his biggest stops early in the third period. Karasiewicz streaked down the ice short-handed with just clean ice and Festa in front of him, but Festa turned him away and kept his team's two-goal advantage.
Festa also shut down Nick Van Den Beld in the first period, turning him away twice after surrendering an initial rebound.
Festa finished with 40 saves, including a glove save on Jamie Zaleski late in the third period as the Outlaws feverishly attempted to close to one goal.
"We had six or seven scoring opportunities in the first and we just didn't capitalize," said Firriolo. "We made it easy for him. We shot the puck right at him, we didn't move the puck from East to West and post to post and we weren't shooting it in good areas."
While Zaleski couldn't close the deficit in the third period, he did bring the crowd to its feet before the end of the game when he squared off with Brian Marks in the first fight in Williamsport history. Few punches were landed, but Zaleski, a Scranton native, finished the scrum laying on top of Marks. Zaleski received a strong ovation as he skated over to the penalty box to serve his 5-minute major.
Dayton added a short-handed goal in the third period to take a 4-1 lead before Williamsport's Paul Arnott scored with a minute remaining and Ahmed Mahfouz added added an empty-net goal.
Whitley made 44 stops for the Outlaws, and faced 48 shots.