KEARNEY — Mike Lucas dreamed of working full time in the hockey industry.
Sixteen years ago, Lucas served as a marketing intern for the Peoria Rivermen in the East Coast Hockey League as a college student at Illinois State University. It was his only season in hockey.
He joined the Windy City ThunderBolts, a professional baseball team in Chicago playing in the Frontier League and worked his way through the organization during the last 16 years.
When Mark Jalcovik, one of the new Tri-City Storm owners, approached Lucas in November about potentially working for him if he and his other partners could successfully purchase a hockey team, Lucas jumped at the opportunity.
Lucas started at the Viaero Center May 23 and assumed full responsibility as the Viaero Center general manager May 28.
Jalcovik coached Lucas’ son in youth hockey and the two developed a relationship, which led to Jalcovik considering Lucas for the position.
“This opportunity was presented to me, but I always had this notion that I wanted to work in hockey again,” Lucas said. “When Mark and I sat down for the first time, I didn’t even give it a second thought.
“The makeup of the ownership group and town, I just had to come here and check it out. Every time I came and visited and every time I talked to the owners, it got me more and more excited.”
Lucas of Homewood, Ill., has a wife, Alison, and a 9-year-old son, Gehrig. Lucas moved to Kearney on his own, though, and said the plan is for his family to eventually relocate as well.
Although Lucas is changing sports, he believes his experiences with the ThunderBolts will translate well to the Storm. He understands how to operate with a smaller staff, generate energy and excitement around a team that isn’t the top organization in the state, and build relationships with local businesses and potential sponsors, he said.
One difference for Lucas is that he also has to focus on organizing events and concerts at the Viaero Center when the Storm don’t have a game.
“The strategy is similar,” Lucas said. “But we have a facility to run here, and we have to bring in events. The hockey team is phenomenal and will continue to be great, and we just need to build off that success and translate that to what we see on the event side as well.”
The Storm’s new ownership group is committed to changing and improving the Viaero Center in hopes of re-energizing the community for Storm games and events held at the arena.
They want to reestablish a relationship with the youth hockey organization in Kearney and help build the program.
They are lowering ticket prices for Storm games and plan on offering better food options at the concession stands. They also have spent the summer months replacing the hockey rink boards and the spectator netting and plan on improving the overall look and feel of the arena as time moves on.
Lucas also is trying to organize a shuttle service for University of Nebraska at Kearney students, which would allow students to have an easy and safe way to and from the arena.
Besides Storm games, Lucas is exploring new entertainment acts for the Viaero Center. For concerts, Lucas wants to have more than just country artists and is exploring different genres of music.
He said the Viaero Center also will consider hosting different events such as professional wrestling, rodeos, ice racing and monster trucks.
Lucas and the new ownership group are committed to revitalizing the interest in Storm games and the events at the Viaero Center. They understand it will take time to regrow the audience and aren’t afraid to take chances when it comes to promotions or events.
“They aren’t all going to work or move the needle as much as we want to,” Lucas said. “But we need to make those strides and take those chances. Whether it’s the ownership group, we are going to try to bring bigger and better and ultimately different events to this arena.”