2010-10-01 / Sports

New York Aviators Look To Soar As Season Approaches

By Rob Schwach

At the end of the Northeast Professional Hockey League season last year, New York Aviators head coach Rob Miller had to be proud of his team’s success on the ice. The team went undefeated and easily won the league’s championship trophy.

Off the ice, the team was not as successful, owing partly to the apparent disorganization within the league. After promoting a five-team league in the fall of 2009, the NEPHL wound up with only two stable teams, and various ragtag groups and club teams were used to fill the rest of schedule. In some cases, the Aviators defeated opponents by double digit scores, more akin to football or baseball than hockey. While the team played well, many fans were turned off by the lack of competition.

Since that time, the Aviators have joined a new league, the Federal Hockey League, with opponents as close as Danbury, Connecticut, and as far away as Canada. With the new league’s higher standards for organization and competition, Miller has challenges to put together a team as competitive as last year while selling his new team to a skeptical fan base.

The team plays its home games at the Aviator Sports facility in Brooklyn, right over the Marine Parkway Bridge, a facility that Miller says gives him an advantage in recruiting good players.

“We have a great place, with a gym and physical therapy in the building, everything is right here,” he said at a recent interview in his office. “With other teams, they may be located in different places, maybe 15-20 minutes away from the arena,” he explained.

Miller has used this recruiting advantage, in addition to offering players the opportunity to play only 30-35 minutes from Manhattan as selling points. Miller’s contacts after a decade involved in college and professional hockey are helping him assemble this year’s squad.

While the actual season roster won’t be finalized until late in October, many names on the coach’s dry erase board would be familiar to fans of the Aviators; Jesse Felten, Angelo Serse, John Geofredo, Chris Holmes and former NHL draft pick, K.C. Timmons. Miller has been auditioning new additions for the last few weeks in anticipation of inviting 20-25 players to training camp, beginning on October 23. The team’s first game, playing away against the Danbury Whalers, is scheduled for Saturday, October 29.

“We’re going to be a good team up front … a tough team,” Miller predicted. “We’ve signed some tough Canadians, we’re looking for another solid defenseman, but we’ll be very competitive if everyone comes [to training camp] that I want.”

One of the new acquisitions he’s most proud of is high scoring forward Matt Puntureri. The name should be familiar to fans of the 2008-09 Brooklyn Aces that played at the Aviator facility. Puntureri’s name was mentioned regularly on the public address system after scoring goals as a member of their rivals, the New Jersey Rockhoppers. He scored 25 goals in 24 games for the Rockhoppers, helping them to the league championship. He played last year in France. “He knows his role, to score goals, that’s why we brought him here.” Miller explained. “He played in the best Junior League in the world, the OHL. He’s a tough guy to play against.”

Miller is also excited about new defenseman, Tyler Lyon, who was recruited by many other teams. Lyon was the Captain of last year’s SUNY/Oswego Ice Hockey SUNYAC championship team, and was a member of the NCAA III National Champion team in 2007. In his four years at SUNY/Oswego, he scored 48 points in 105 games. He played before that in the prestigious Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. Asked about his team’s chances this season, Miller was very confident.

“I know who everyone else [the other teams] has signed, and we’ll be up there [in the standings] for sure.” “With a new league, I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road, but we’re starting off on the right foot, and we’ve had months of preparation and planning. He looks forward to starting the season and showing off his team’s abilities.

“If I were a fan, I’d come.” Miller said. “I appreciate the fans that come out and support us, jumping into this new league.”

As a professional hockey player (ACHL, WHA2, SPHL), Miller played in Jacksonville, Lakeland and Knoxville, before joining the Brooklyn Aces in 2008. An on-ice injury led to him becoming an assistant coach that season, and he took over the reins of the Aviators the following season.

Fan favorite K.C. Timmons is also returning this season and was recently practicing at the Aviator facility. Timmons, a native of Victoria, British Columbia, was drafted by the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche in 1998. He played in various minor leagues in the United States, England, Australia and Holland. He came to New York to work in the music industry and heard about the minor league professional hockey team in Brooklyn through his father, who had sent him an e-mail. He scored 35 points in 27 games for the Aviators last season. Timmons’ veteran status and experience should make him a role model for younger players on the team.

“I try to do a little to help out the other guys.” said Timmons. “I’ll help out anyone who asks.”

When asked about the differences between the players he plays with now and those he played with in higher levels in the past, Timmons was complimentary to his teammates.

“They’re very good, but they just didn’t have the coaching that I had [in Canada as a youth]. At 14, I was drafted to play in juniors and by 16 I was playing for guys that would eventually coach in the NHL. That kind of level of coaching hasn’t been available to these guys [at young ages].”

Ticket information for the Aviators is available on the team’s website at www.newyorkaviators.com. After playing their first seven games on the road, the Aviators’ first home game is scheduled for Friday, November 12 at 7:30 P.M. against the Broome County Barons.

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