MOLINE — Despite the challenges, an opportunity to run her hometown hockey team was too good for Gwen Tombergs to pass up.
Tombergs was introduced Thursday as the president of the Quad City Storm, the new hockey franchise that will debut in the Southern Professional Hockey League this October.
“That’s the biggest feather in my hat,” said Tombergs, who grew up in Eldridge. “I can’t even tell you how proud I am that I had the skill set that fit, but to say I can make a difference in my own hometown with a product that’s going to be embraced and has a lot of support already, it’s pretty huge in my book.”
Tombergs is the first female president in the 23-year history of Quad-Cities hockey as well as in the 14-year history of the SPHL.
“She’s involved in the community. She’s qualified to be president and it has nothing to do with whether she’s male or female. She’s the best candidate for the job, period,” SPHL commissioner Jim Combs said. “It’s fantastic, I think more people should do it. We’ve had female officials, we had a female goalie playing for us, looking forward to the day where it’s not a thing.”
Tombergs has been involved with sports throughout her career. She worked as the director of ticket sales development with the New York Mets and also had roles with the Quad City Thunder back in the CBA days as well as with the Richmond Renegades, a former ECHL team.
Tombergs most recently was on the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, serving as the director of resource and member development. She became aware of the opportunity with the Storm when TaxSlayer Center executive director Scott Mullen inquired about posting the job opening on the commerce website.
It piqued Tombergs’ interest and she was hired last week.
“I met the owners and they told me their commitment to the community and that’s number one,” Tombergs said. “I want this community to be proud of their team and know that it’s their team. So when we started talking about that I thought maybe this is a good fit and I always like a good challenge.”
Her experience and her long background with the community could provide opportunities to quickly make inroads with corporate sponsors. The Storm already have a base established by the former Quad City Mallards, but the novelty of the franchise change could provide some challenges.
The franchise feels Tombergs is well suited for those hurdles.
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“I feel on the business side of things she’s got one of the best personalities and attitudes to take on a team that will support the community,” team co-owner Ryan Mosley said. “I feel with her community engagements and prior history, I couldn’t find a better candidate that I feel would be the one giving back to the community.”
Tombergs knows what challenges face the Storm with less than four months until the team’s home opener on Oct. 20. She also has plenty of ideas about how to make sure the Storm succeed where teams before them failed. She plans to take cues from what the Quad Cities River Bandits and Quad City Steamwheelers have done, particularly community involvement and a strong focus on marketing and in-game entertainment.
“I was trained to do big and I have the ‘wow factor’ mentality and that’s what I want to bring back,” Tombergs said. “What they’ve done over there (with the Bandits and Steamwheelers) shows me what I can do here.”
That attitude has already made an impact on those around her.
“Gwen is just so professional, expects the best out of you and that’s what I expect out of my players,” said Storm coach Dave Pszenyczny. “It’s what I expected out of myself when I played. I held myself to a higher level as far as I wanted to get better every day and if I didn’t, that day was a failure to me. Having her is going to be awesome because it’s going to be a nice reminder.”
There’s still a lot of work left to be done.
Tombergs said she’s looking to hire a marketing director, as well as fill out the ticket sales staff. The Storm also have to establish relationships with their sponsors and continue to work on ticket sales.
But Tombergs is embracing the challenge.
“When you’ve been in sports before, you know how many hours you work and what it’s going to take and this is a startup,” Tombergs said. “It’s super fun because it’s a startup, but you know you’re going to be working a lot because you’re doing everything from logos, to business cards to hiring people.
“We do have a lot of work to do, but the exciting thing is we already know people want hockey here.”