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Steel City Warriors hockey ceases operations

| Thursday, April 23, 2015, 12:21 a.m.

No wins. No fans. No team.

After just one season in the Federal Hockey League, the Steel City Warriors have closed up shop.

They actually managed three victories and attracted a handful of fans to home games at Rostraver Ice Garden, but it was a bleak season from the start.

“I have nothing but respect for these guys,” said John Mooney, the former Serra Catholic High School coach who took the reins of the Warriors late in the season when Ryan Huggert resigned as coach.

The team recently announced it was ceasing operations for at least a year. Warriors owner Annice Reaves released a statement saying she hoped to have a team up and running for the 2016-17 season.

“The team intends to return and will apply for the 2016-17 Federal Hockey League season with a new home, which will be announced once the dust settles,” Reaves said.

It was unclear whether the team would remain in Western Pennsylvania, though Mooney said he was hearing rumors it may consider relocating to Johnstown.

Steel City's players on Friday became free agents with the FHL, which is expected to remain at a minimum of six teams for its sixth season with the addition of Port Huron, Mich.

Average attendance for Steel City games at Rostraver Ice Garden reportedly struggled to hit 100, and players were slow to receive payment, Mooney said.

The team finished last in the standings with 10 points.

“I saw how dedicated they were,” said Mooney, 45, of Elizabeth Township. “I actually played in one game and it was fun. Those guys practiced every day, they took the bus rides and many of them stayed in hotels. I still talk to them even today.”

Mooney, who coached 10 seasons at Serra Catholic after setting a national record for goals in a season with 102 in just 20 games as a senior for the Eagles in 1987-88, did what he could to try and help the Warriors succeed.

His love for the game has kept him active in the sport outside of his involvement with the Warriors. Mooney continues to periodically conduct clinics and stay involved with his six children, two of whom play at the college women's level.

Mooney himself played at Colorado College and later professionally for Johnstown of the East Coast Hockey League, where he suffered a career-threatening head injury, and then for Memphis of the Central Hockey League.

“Funny as it sounds, it was a fun time,” he said, referring to this season. “I love those guys, and I hope the league continues.”

The Steel City scenario wasn't the only trouble encountered by the FHL. The Danbury (Conn.) Ice Arena decided to evict the Danbury Whalers, who since have been without a home.

Perhaps a more pressing issue facing the league involves finances.

USA Today, citing a report by the Network of Canada, said the league was in danger of folding after a judgment in U.S. Federal Court ordered the FHL to pay $800,000 to a former Danville (Ill.) player who was injured in 2012, leaving him legally blind.

FHL commissioner Don Kirnan told USA Today the league has $1 million worth of insurance and that he expected the league to continue operating normally.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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