While this will be the first home stand for Fayetteville’s most popular athletes, the hockey team will storm into the Crown after adding two notches to its belt this past weekend, defeating Richmond 6-3 on Saturday, Oct. 25; and schooling last year’s league champions, Knoxville, 3-2 on Friday, Nov. 24.
Those wins come as no surprise to Jason Fleming, the team’s vice president. Fleming doesn’t hesitate to talk about the upcoming season and the team’s players with enthusiasm.
“We’re really excited about this upcoming season,” said Fleming. “Last year we were just one win away from reaching the finals for the second consecutive year.”
While many teams in the league are experiencing a rebuilding season, the FireAntz are blessed to have eight of their returning starters back on the line this season. The team’s future may very well be built on the quick reflexes and leadership of its returning goaltender — Chad Collins. Collins, a fan favorite, has already taken the lead in the Southern Professional Hockey League, and Fleming and company expect him to continue to shine throughout the season.
He’ll be joined again this year by Kyle Knechtel, who played his rookie year last year. Collins was out for six weeks last year, and Knechtel carried the standard and kept the puck out of the goal for the team during that period. “Kyle was a rookie player, but he really stepped up to the plate and had a huge impact on the team last year. He was an awesome goalie, and we are looking forward to his getting his second playing year under his belt,” said Fleming.
Six other players are returning – four forwards and two defensemen – to keep the FireAntz in control of the ice. Corey Hessler, the team captain and assistant coach, will lend his maturity and skills to the mix to lead the team to what Fleming and company hopes is certain victory.
The team is looking to Rob Sich, another fan favorite, and Justin Keller to lead the team’s offense. The two didn’t disappoint in the opening weekend of the season, with both players delivering stellar performances.
If the hockey isn’t enough to entice you, the team will again a host a number of special events throughout the year, starting with the first home game.
“Our home opening is on Friday, Oct. 31, so we have to compete with Halloween,” said Fleming. “We’re encouraging everyone to come out and Trick-or-Treat with the FireAntz.”Fleming explained that all of the team’s business partners will have candy stands set up around the coliseum, passing out candy to all of the little FireAntz fans in costume. “It’s a fun, safe atmosphere for trick-or-treat,” continued Fleming. “On top of it, you can a chance to watch the FireAntz at home!”
The team will also sponsor a costume contest for the best costume (and it doesn’t matter how old you are to compete in this contest.) First prize is a $100 cash prize; second prize is a team jersey; and third place is a team T-shirt.
The second game in the opening home stand is a repeat of last year’s military events – Operation Welcome Home. “We’re going to sponsor Operation Welcome Home V in conjunction with the Home Builder’s Association of Fayetteville,” explained season. “We are providing 5,000 tickets to the men and women of our military who have recently returned from deployment. We think it’s a nice way to give back to the men and women who have put everything on the line for us. It’s a very small token to say thank you.”