Metro Detroit has a North American Hockey League team again.
The Motor City Machine introduced its coach and general manager, Matt Romaniski, last month at Brownstown’s Ice Box Sports Center, the team’s new home arena.
The Downriver-based franchise relocated from Owatonna, Minn., after playing three seasons in the NAHL as the Southern Minnesota Express.
“This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” said Romaniski, who grew up in St. Paul but moved to Belleville in 1999 and has worked with several top young Michigan-based players in the past. “I’m glad to be back in this area, and we’re really excited about building a team with strong Michigan ties.”
With the wide array of high-level hockey in metro Detroit, Romaniski sees the Machine as a great fit.
“College coaches already come here to watch the (USA Hockey) NTDP, Midget AAA and high school and this will give kids a chance to stay and play at home at a high level and keep their college eligibility,” he said.
The Machine will compete in the NAHL’s six-team North Division along with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, the U.S. National Under-17 Team and the league’s three other Michigan-based franchises, the Traverse City North Stars, Alpena IceDiggers and Marquette Rangers.
Romaniski believes the 33-year old NAHL has grown into a great league for player development, and the proximity to Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) campuses, the fact that Detroit is direct flight for most Eastern-based colleges and having the high-profile U.S. Under-17 Team in its division ensures high visibility for the Machine’s players.
“The league has changed so much,” he said. “The quality of play is very high, the pace is fast, the players play with passion and the fans will enjoy it.”
After deciding to move from Minnesota, the franchise ownership group looked at other venues but quickly opted for Brownstown after seeing the arena and meeting Ice Box owner Johno Norian.
“I hit if off with Johno and we really wanted to be here,” said Romaniski.
Brownstown is undergoing an expansion of its downtown area and the Ice Box has plans for a $1 million renovation of the 5/3 Bank Arena that will be the home of the Machine. The planned expansion will have new seating, flooring and locker rooms, including an 1,800 square foot area for the Machine.
“We’re really excited to have the Machine here,” said Norian. “With the expansion of downtown and the arena we can help build up the sport and give back. It’s a win-win for the community and a win-win for the team.”
The Machine held tryouts in June and has a training camp scheduled for early July. Defenseman Bennett Schnieder, who played two years at Cranbrook-Kingswood prep school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., spent last season with the Express and will be one of the veterans on the Machine.
“It’s great to be back here,” said Schnieder, who is originally from Fort Myers, Fla. “I am excited about next season. We should have a good team.”
Romaniski expects a total of “five or six” players from last year’s squad to return, but the Machine has drafted, tendered and traded for Michigan natives, including brothers Nate and Nick Taurence of Trenton who played last season with the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats.
“We should have very solid goaltending and defense,” said Romaniski, who expects his roster to be on the young side with numerous 1990 and ’91 birthdates. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on and off the ice, but I am looking forward to it.”
MACHINE NOTES: Jesse Davis has assumed the role of assistant general manager and vice president of the Machine’s AAA teams. He will also serve as head coach of the Midget Major AAA squad… Victoria DePalma has been hired as part of the team’s sales and marketing staff… The Ice Box Sports Center has begun its new facelift for the NAHL and AAA teams.