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Sears Centre welcomes new hockey team to town
By Ashok Selvam | Daily Herald Staff

Steve Martinson, head coach of the new hockey team.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Steve Martinson greets fans of the new hockey team the Chicago Express which will play at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Marc Johnson of Bartlett, who named the new team talks about how he came up with the name.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/21/2010 11:28 AM | Updated: 9/28/2010 2:42 PM

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The hockey team slated to begin play next year at the Sears Centre Arena now has a name and logo, but what's next?

Hoffman Estates officials on Tuesday morning joined owner Craig Drecktrah to uncover the winning name - Chicago Express - and logo - a locomotive sliding around on an ice skate. The team's debut season starts in October 2011.

The unveiling of the team name is an exciting time for the village and the future of it's 11,000-seat arena, Mayor William McLeod said. He envisions hockey sticking around this time, unlike the Chicago Hounds, who lasted one season at the Sears Centre.

"The ECHL is one of the premiere leagues in American hockey, and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with them," McLeod said.

Tuesday was the first time ECHL officials had a chance to tour the Sears Centre, as the league's offices are based in Princeton, N.J.

"We know that we have the municipal support, fan support, a great facility, a solid owner who is committed to work hard over the next year to make sure we have a quality product on the ice and in the building," League Commissioner Brian McKenna said. "From the league's point of view we're very, very excited about that."

The Express will be the 20th franchise in the ECHL, a developmental league equivalent to "AA" level. The ECHL started in 1988 and each team is affiliated with an American Hockey League franchise, such as the Chicago Wolves or the Rockford IceHogs. The AHL is considered a "AAA" farm system for the NHL.

The team Tuesday also unveiled new coach Steve Martinson, who coached the ECHL Elmira Jackals in New York. Martinson played for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and the old Minnesota North Stars. He's no stranger to the penalty box.

"We're going to have entertaining, physical hockey," he said.

When Drecktrah announced plans in June to bring hockey back to Hoffman Estates, the team debuted an Internet naming contest. The other three finalists from about 1,000 names that were submitted were the Chicago Blizzard, Chicago Knights and Hoffman Hammers. About 20,000 votes were cast for the final selection.

"We felt very good about being able to market it," Drecktrah said of the Chicago Express name. He also commented on the team's new colors.

"We chose navy, gray and the sky blue because they are very nice, inviting and warm colors," he said. "And also because we feel that the visiting teams will end up gray and blue by the time we're done."

Bartlett resident Marc Johnson, a 38-year-old firefighter/paramedic from the Oak Brook Fire Department, came up with the name. He wins season tickets and will drop the ceremonial first puck when the Sears Centre hosts the Express home opener. Johnson's inspiration came from Chicagoland's history with the railroad and its expressways that link its villages and cities.

"I'll definitely have to take some of my Facebook friends, because they did a lot of voting and I promised them," he said.

Keith Flynn at Canadian-based Flynnagain Productions designed the logo. The firm has designed logos for a variety of teams and individuals, including golfer John Daly and retired baseball pitcher Roger Clemens.

Drecktrah said season ticket sales have been strong, especially as his staff didn't have a team name or logo to show fans until Tuesday. A successful season would have an average of 3,000 to 4,200 fans for each of the 38 regular-season games.

"This will give us plenty of time to get that solid base of season tickets and we're not rushing anything," Express President and General Manager Wade Welsh said.

The Sears Centre has never made a profit, but stable sports teams, like what officials hope the Express will become, will help. Village officials are happy with the performance of the building since they brought in arena management group Comcast Corp., but the building still is losing money. The building lost about $161,000 in operating costs in August and is projected to lose $900,000 this year, but that's down from the $1.2 million loss projected earlier.

If the Chicago Express draws an average of 4,200 fans, the arena would walk away with about $20,000 per game in annual profits, officials said.

Drecktrah is eager to erase the reputation left by the Hounds, which played the 2006-07 season as part of the United Hockey League. Drecktrah, an engineer from Belvidere, purchased that team during the season, but wasn't able to save it. He's been eager to bring hockey back to the Sears Centre ever since.

The ECHL and Express will feature younger players with better skills than the UHL and the Hounds, officials say.

The Hounds never get off on the right skate. The team's home opener, one of the first events at the Sears Centre, was canceled because of melting ice. Drecktrah wants to assure fans this time will be different.

"No. 1, there will be a first game, and it won't be canceled," he said.