East Coast Hockey League (1993-2004)
Born: May 6, 1993 – ECHL expansion franchise.
Died: July 20, 2004 – The ECHL terminates the Express franchise.
Arena: Roanoke Civic Center (8,614)
Team Colors: Forest Green, Fire Red, Black & White
- 1993-1997: John Gagnon, Pierre Paiement, Joe Steffen, et al.
- 1997-1999: Joe Steffen, Mike Stevens, Dick Yancey, et al.
- 1999-2001: Dick Yancey, Mike Stevens, et al.
- 2001-2004: Ashby Coleman, Mike Lonchar & Chris Pollock
The Roanoke Express were a mid-level minor league hockey club in the East Coast Hockey League for nine seasons from 1994 to 2003. The Express followed close on the heels of a series of failed Roanoke-area clubs of the mid-80’s to early 90’s, including the Lancers, Rebels and Rampage, all of which played in a peculiar little building called the LancerLot in nearby Vinton. A blizzard in March 1993 caved in the LancerLot roof during a Roanoke Valley Rampage home game, marking the death knell of both team and the LancerLot as a pro hockey venue.
The ECHL granted an expansion franchise to a group led by trucking entrepreneur John Gagnon and Pierre Paiement, a former player from the 1970’s Roanoke Valley Rebels of the Eastern Hockey League. Unlike the Valley’s recent string of failed clubs, Gagnon and Paiement’s would play at the downtown Roanoke Civic Center, which hadn’t hosted pro hockey since the 1970’s but offered a far more conventional and professional setting than the destroyed LancerLot.
The Express had a strong team throughout the 1990’s under coaches Frank Anzalone and Scott Gordon. The team’s goaltending was especially strong thanks to the tandem of NHL’s veterans Daniel Berthiaume (pictured on program, above right) and Dave Gagnon. The Express won three straight division titles from 1998 to 2000, but the team never progressed far in the playoffs.
The club fell on hard times in the early 2000’s. Ownership turned over a couple of times and the second generation of hockey investors over-extended themselves by getting involved with the city’s money losing Arena Football 2 team, the Roanoke Steam. A pair of front office officials were indicted for embezzlement fro the team, though charges were later dismissed. The team began losing and attendance dipped from a mid-1990’s high of nearly 5,700 per game to fewer than 3,000 a night. In July 2004 the ECHL terminated the franchise after the team’s final investor group exhausted its resources and no new buyers could be found.
Goaltender Daniel Berthiaume settled near Roanoke after his hockey career was over and has operated a fishing charter on Smith Mountain Lake for over a decade. Check him out at www.captainbert.com