ELMIRA, NY (WENY) -- A new hockey league and team is coming to Elmira's First Arena.

The move was discussed at Wednesday morning's Chemung County Industrial Development Agency meeting, followed by a formal press conference at First Arena.

According to IDA Chairman Mark Margeson, local businessman Marc Stemerman with Chemung Supply Corporation has made a "significant investment" in the community and the team. 

The new team, called the Elmira Aviators, will compete in the North American Hockey League. The team name was chosen as a nod to Elmira's aviation history with sailplanes.

The North American Hockey League is considered the second tier of junior hockey in the United States, behind the first-tier United States Hockey League and ahead of the third-tier North American 3 Hockey League.

 According to Margeson, the expense of having an NAHL team play under the arena will be significantly less than its contract with the Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL). The agreement between the team and the IDA is a five-year deal.

"It's our fiduciary responsibility to continue financially to look at the arena, and this particular deal will cost approximately 50% less out of pocket for the hockey structure. We will continue to offer hockey in the arena. The form of hockey will be the North American [Hockey] League, it actually brings college students into the D1 division. And additionally, right now effective today there's been over 50 participants in the NAHL league that have gone to the NHL," Margeson said. 

Commissioner of the NAHL, Mark Frankenfeld says everything the league does is about development and advancement.

"We do a tremendous job of placing players in Division I and Division III schools and these young men are not little youth," Frankenfeld said. "The guys are big strong-willed young men that are going to come here and battle. So the brand of hockey you see is going to be very physical, it's going to be very exciting, and everything we do is about the players and the community through the sport of ice hockey."

This would be the fourth different hockey team to play in First Arena in recent years, with the past three operating within the FPHL. Most recently, the Elmira River Sharks wrapped up its inaugural season, preceded by the Elmira Mammoth, which folded after one season. Prior to that, the Elmira Enforcers played out of First Arena from 2018 until 2021. Historically, the Elmira Jackals played under the United Hockey League from 2000 to 2007, and then became a team with the ECHL from 2007 until the team went under in 2017, after a sale of First Arena was announced.

Frankenfeld says the reason they wanted to bring a team to Elmira is the package of ownership, the community, and everything that's behind it.

"Having a local business person that's committed and passionate about Elmira is what's key to this project and then he works through the hockey operations stuff and the league membership and the agreement with the IDA and it all came together in a short period of time," he added. "Elmira is in a really good part of our east footprint. You're going to have some great rivalries here, it's going to be some great hockey, and it's going to be great for the community long-term."

The Elmira Aviators are the league's 35th active team, and are the third expansion team set to begin play in the 2024-25 season, the first two expansion franchises are the Watertown Shamrocks (Watertown, SD) and the Minnesota Mallards (Forest Lake, MN).

Margeson said the move to forge ahead with hockey within the NAHL is a positive step forward.

"I feel it's a very strong financial decision we had to make to keep hockey here in Elmira, and I think it's going to be a real positive impact to the community, having a significant business owner involved in this particular process," Margeson said. 

The Elmira Aviators will become the tenth team in the NAHL's East Division, and play a regular season schedule of 60 games. The majority of the schedule will be contested against divisional opponents, including: the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks (Danbury, CT), Johnstown Tomahawks (Johnstown, PA), Maine Nordiques (Lewiston, ME), Maryland Black Bears (Odenton, MD), New Hampshire Mountain Kings (Hookset, NH), New Jersey Titans (Middletown, NJ), Northeast Generals (Attleboro, MA), Philadelphia Rebels (Sewell, NJ), and Rochester Jr. Americans (Rochester, NY). The Mountain Kings and Jr. Americans were part of the league's 2023-24 expansion push.

WENY also caught up with the Commissioner of the FPHL and Owner of the Elmira River Sharks, Don Kirnan, and he discussed the deal not getting done to keep the team in Elmira.

"The fans of Elmira are as good as any fans in the league, they're great people," Kirnan said. I'm sorry that we can't keep a team there but we offered to pay more than what Binghamton was paying for a smaller building and they weren't interested and that's the way all of our teams are run the same way. You pay a rent, you sell the tickets, you sell the corporate and that's how teams survive and they wanted a different system."

Watch the entire press conference regarding the league and team announcement: