RRSC - RoughRiders replace Oilers at SoNo Ice House

John Nash, The Hour

Norwalk, CT   3/15/17

The Connecticut Oilers junior hockey program is leaving the city and the SoNo Ice House, but they’re not leaving the state.

In a double-pronged move that will boost junior hockey and youth hockey in both the city and the state, the RoughRider Hockey Club of Colorado will be playing as a locally owned organization from the EHL Premier League level down through the lowest level of youth hockey.

The Oilers name, meanwhile, is being transferred to a brand-new EHL club that will play its hockey games out of the Louis Astrono Arena in Hamden.

“Basically, the Oiler name is very strong, and we didn’t want to lose that,” said team president Ryan Hughes, who built the SoNo Ice House and chose the Oilers nickname in honor of the former Home Oilers semipro franchise that called the city home. “It’s a great name in the Northeast, so when we had an opportunity to put the team in Hamden, that’s where the Oilers name went.”

The Oilers — who lost in the first round of this year’s EHL playoffs after two straight semifinal appearances and a trip to the league championship series — have been an affiliate of the RoughRiders organization for the past five seasons.

Joining forces with the RoughRiders organization offers all the SoNo Ice House-based youth hockey programs a far deeper network.

“The ability to have the RoughRiders network of teams, coaches and support system will enhance the ability of our players to develop within our system and progress throughout the leagues we are members of, while continuing their training at the SoNo House,” Hughes said. “It benefits all of our members.”

All of the former CT Oilers teams — from the EHL Premier squad to the youth hockey programs that played in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League — will adopt the RoughRiders name.

As part of the move, the Connecticut Barons youth hockey program — a member of the Connecticut Hockey Conference — will also play under the RoughRiders name.

“Clearly, if I didn’t think it was a good thing, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Steve Ehrlich, president and co-owner of the Barons organization. “I think it’s a good thing for the local kids playing the game. They have an opportunity now to walk into the SoNo Ice House and every kid will be a RoughRider moving forward.”

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders was founded in 1999 and is one of 16 USHL teams in the country, the highest level of non-paid Junior Hockey there is in the United States.

According to a press release, the club currently has thousands of skaters involved in the sport through programs in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa and now Connecticut.

“Establishing a team in the Eastern Hockey League allows our players more opportunities to continue their development in pursuing their goals to further their hockey career,” RoughRiders President Luke Taylor said. “Our experience in the EHL with our affiliate team, the Connecticut Oilers, has given us confidence to add a Roughrider team to the league.”

The EHL’s RoughRiders will continue to be coached by Eric Lind, who is also the team’s general manager.

“They wanted an East Coast presence and we share a lot of the same values and same mission,” Hughes said. “That’s to develop people through hockey and move them on to college.”

While being a part of the RoughRiders organization, the teams and programs based out of the SoNo Ice House will remain locally owned and operated, Hughes said.

While the EHL and AYHL teams will be owned separately from the CHC program, the fact that there is one pipeline for local skaters to traverse is exciting to those involved.

“This is great for the community,” Ehrlich said. “Instead of people wondering, ‘Well, who are the Oilers? And who are the Barons?’ Norwalk is now home to the RoughRiders and that’s a great thing. Everybody is associated together now.”

The new Hamden-based Oilers organization will also be owned by the previous ownership group, which purchased the New Jersey Titans and relocated them to Hamden.

The Connecticut RoughRiders gives the EHL Premier Division four Connecticut-based teams for next season, in addition to the Oilers, the Hartford Junior Wolfpack and the Connecticut Nighthawks.

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