ELMIRA, NY – On a night filled with nostalgia and emotions, a crowd of just over 36-hundred fans filed into First Arena one last time Saturday night to watch the Elmira Jackals.
Goodbye songs played before the game with Adirondack, and the warmup music was the same playlist that played during warmups in the first game at First Arena against Knoxville in the UHL on November 11, 2000.
From the Jackal Army to the Goon Squad to Dr. Jackal, the team has seen many fans bring their own personalities to the games, but no fan has been as recognizable as Flagman. Pete “Flagman” Frank has been a season ticket holder since puck drop in the 2000-2001 season.
“After 9/11 happen, I started carrying the flag. I told my wife, in every sporting event you go too there’s always somebody with a flag in the stands and I was gonna be the guy who did it for this place.” Frank said.
“One Halloween, my daughter and I painted our faces red, white, and blue and it kinda stuck. The guys behind us kept calling me Captain America, etc. Then one night, I hear ‘FlagMan’ and it just stuck.”
‘Flagman’ went on to say he’s gonna miss the fights the most as that’s what really got him into going to Jackals games. He’s also gonna miss wearing his authentic jersey and team memorabilia.
Elmira Jackals Vice President Bob Thomas is gonna miss the people the most.
“I am going to miss the people who made it all happen.” Thomas said. “We truly have some of the hardest working and most dedicated staff members I have ever had the pleasure to be around. This market is unique in that one staff works for the Arena and for the Team.”
Public Address announcer Michael Storbel, who’s been with the organization since the beginning, reflected on his past 17 years.
“I will miss everything about the Jackals. Gameday, offseason sales/marketing preparation, all the great people I’ve worked with over the years, announcing games, the players, the off ice officials, the games win or lose, but most of all the fans who supported this team with their time and money for so long.”
Strobel and Thomas both reflected and remembered many events the organization has held or been part of in their 17-year history.
“The recent Kelly Stage benefit and the support of the community was a real highlight.” Strobel said. “From the school visits, the library reading programs and the Annual D3 Day.”
“To see the entire Team spend a few hours playing games and interacting with Dave Clark, Dave Stephens, and all the kids, it is what this whole thing is about. Yes, wins and losses matter, but not as much as the lives that can be touched through the platform we have.”
Despite the end of this chapter in Elmira, many fans I spoke with felt positive that hockey would return soon. Local businessman Brian Barrett bought First Arena in March but did not buy the Elmira Jackals as part of the sale. Season ticket holder Alan Cecee is one of the fans who believes hockey will be back.
“I don’t believe he would buy the arena and not have hockey,” Cecce said.
If you’re curious, this chapter of the hockey story in Elmira closed the way it began in the United Hockey League days, with a loss. In their first game, the Jackals lost to the B.C. Icemen by the score of 4-1. In their last tilt, the Jackals were blanked by the Adirondack Thunder 5-0.
Overall in their history, the Jackals finished with two conference playoff championships (2001-02, 2003-04 in the UHL), three division titles (2001-02 in the UHL, 2009-10 and 2011-12 in the ECHL) and two conference regular season titles (2001-02 in UHL, 2011-12 in ECHL). All-time, the Jackals finished with a 576-557-119 record in 1,252 regular season games played.
No matter what the future holds for hockey in Elmira, Bob Thomas had one last message to the fans.
“Thank You. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your cheers. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Thank you for spending your hard-earned money on tickets, on concessions and on merchandise. Don’t give up on First Arena. We need your support, now and in the future.”