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The upcoming season for the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs is finally upon us. The Dawgs, set in the Southern Professional Hockey League, are the fourth pro hockey team for Roanoke; excitement has been building since late 2015 (owner and president Bob McGinn purchased the franchise in October 2015, relocating the inactive Mississippi Surge into Roanoke’s current team). November 2015 brought about the official name, logo (designed by premier Canadian sports artist and minority team owner Rob MacDougall) and colors. In April 2016, the team announced their first head coach—Sam Ftorek, a scoring defenseman with 1,097 career games and now-previous assistant coach to the Kalamazoo Wings.
Rail Yard Dawgs President Bob McGinn has three sons, all with NHL contracts. Being born and raised in Canada, the whole family has a passion for hockey. His sons understand how things work from the head coach down, while McGinn’s background (35 years in sales and marketing, retired from the HVAC industry in 2015) lent to the business side of things.
“Obviously, my boys won’t play forever, so Jamie (the oldest) wants to learn about the front office side of hockey. When he asked me to help, my wife and I both agreed this would be a great way for us to continue to help our kids. Our family owns 67.5 percent of the team and will continue to have complete control of the team.”
As McGinn and his team searched for a venue, they knew many things had to fall into place to be successful. However, three things were non-negotiable: Local ownership, local government to support the venture and a great arena with a lease that made sense. After a few months of reviewing potential cities, McGinn kept coming back to Roanoke.
“General manager of the Berglund Center Robyn Schon and her staff were amazing to work with along with Mayor Bowers and city council,” McGinn says. “Our vision for pro hockey was also positively greeted by five local families who invested their hard-earned money into the team. Our local owners are in touch with the Roanoke Valley daily, which helps us fine-tune our events and marketing. Roanoke also has a great history of pro hockey dating back decades. Our local owners were given the task of getting together to help name the team, a great tribute to Roanoke!”
Last November, the enthusiastic force behind the team gathered at the Berglund Center to announce the new name, as well as sell some jerseys and season tickets. McGinn says they expected maybe 150 people—the diehard hockey fans—to show for the big news. To their great surprise, 600 people were in attendance and happy to wait in line for 45 minutes to get their season tickets and get some of the first Rail Yard Dawgs jerseys.
“The response was jaw-dropping,” McGinn says. “The Roanoke Valley has been very supportive and it’s our job to continue to earn their trust each and every day.”
With all new seating, the promise of a new state-of-the-art video scoreboard, new refrigeration system, and other upgrades, the Berglund Center is ready and waiting for the season to begin. Staff hires are already in motion, including Mickey Gray as the Vice President for Business and Hockey Operations. Gray comes from the Peoria Rivermen (as previous Assistant General Manager for Corporate Partnerships) to run the organization. McGinn says Gray “really knows what he is doing, as he is rounding out an outstanding front office and hockey staff.”
Back in June, the Rail Yard Dawgs held a mascot naming contest; fans submitted recommendations for the official name. With over 300 submissions, owners and management selected “Diesel” as the Rail Yard Dawgs mascot name. Sponsored by HomeTrust Bank, Diesel is a golden dog dressed in train conductor overalls and a matching hat featuring the Roanoke Star.
McGinn emphasizes the team’s opportunities to be a strong community supporter by having their players visit schools, hospitals, and other events, in addition to helping local charities as best they can.
“We are in the entertainment business,” McGinn adds. “I have made it clear to all our owners and Rail Yard Dawg staff, we will be family entertainment both on and off the ice.”
Full season tickets and half season tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 540-344-DAWG. Single game tickets will be available in September, with the first home game taking place at the Berglund Center on October 21.