It may be three years now since the North Bay Centennials left town, but still many North Bay hockey fans remember Costa Papista as the sinister figure responsible for brokering a deal that saw the club leave the Gateway city for Saginaw, Michigan.
Now the Detroit, Michigan native has been out of the junior hockey business for more than a year now. Papista was let go by the Saginaw Spirit in January of 2004 and last summer he got together with an old friend and decided to try is luck at the ownership level.
Costa Papista and long time friend Don MacAdam, a former assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings and a former head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, organized Donco Entertainment LLC, a local group that purchased the Dayton Bombers of the East Coast Hockey League on July 21, 2004.
“We were looking for a franchise that was looking to be re-energized and re-build and make successful,” Papista said in a phone interview with BayToday.ca.
Papista had his hands full as his group purchased the club when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. However, since ECHL franchise was an affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the lockout allowed nine signed Columbus players to suit up for the Bombers while the NHL club also channeled business resources to the team as well.
On the ice though, the East Coast League franchise has struggled this season, sitting in last place in the National Conference’s North Division with 22 wins in 65 games this year. So just like the Saginaw Spirit, this Papista franchise will not make the playoffs.
For Papista the ownership level is a fresh start. He realizes that he didn’t do the job he had hoped with Saginaw and has no ill-feelings towards the club’s ownership for letting him go in January of 2004 after only a year and a half with the re-located franchise.
“I understand why I was let go there, that’s the nature of the business,” Papista admitted.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the team evolve on the ice, but on the other hand, as General Manager you’ve got to accept 100 percent responsibility for everything in my case I was in charge of business and hockey side, you’ve got to take responsibility for that and the hockey side was not progressing as quickly as any of us wanted to and that was disappointing,” said Papista about the Saginaw Spirit, who have yet to make the OHL playoffs in their three years in Michigan.
Small Hockey World
The hockey world proves to be a very small place. If you look at the Dayton Bombers roster this season you will probably see some familiar faces.
In total, three former North Bay Centennials have suited up this season for Papista’s team. Goaltender Andrew Penner, who’s now been called up to Columbus’s AHL affiliate, forward Scott Cameron, a former 37 goal scorer with the Cents back in 2000-2001, and North Bay native Steve Dix, who was dealt to the Centennials near the trade deadline in the club’s last season in North Bay and played the following two seasons in Saginaw.
North Bay hard to forget
Surprising to some, Papista says he feels more disappointment about North Bay losing a team than he does about losing his job in Saginaw, even though he took a lot of heat from the local media and fans over what he calls, “The Conspiracy Theory.”
“The fact that I ended up on the receiving end was perfectly fine, and understandable, but not justifiable, “ said Papista.
“I don’t have any bad feelings about anybody in North Bay, and I understand it was a very difficult situation to lose a team. I didn’t want to see that happen at all.”
I was hired (in the fall of 2000) to make it work and that didn’t happen and that’s still very frustrating and disappointing to me that the team wasn’t able to be viable.”
As an owner now himself, Papista realizes it’s not cheap to run a hockey team, professional or junior these days. However, under the right circumstances he believes North Bay could have an OHL franchise once again.
“I think there is potential for that, I think the community at large has to step up and really rally behind it not just a small percentage of die hard hockey fans,” Papista said.
“I guess an example would be Saginaw, you’ve got so many families and kids and people that would not consider themselves die hard hockey fans but just they are there to support the community team, they are there to support the community event. So it’s more about the community and less about pure hockey.”
But if OHL hockey isn’t part of the future for North Bay, Papista suggests the city should look at acquiring a CIS men’s hockey franchise at Nipissing University.
While chances are pretty good that Papista won’t be involved in bringing a University or OHL team to North Bay, he still says he will always have a special connection with this Northern Ontario Community.
“I have great Memories of North Bay, first of all our daughter was born there.”
And that’s a connection that can never be re-located.
Photo courtesy the Dayton Bombers