They’re not through the first turn yet, but it appears a two-horse race is developing over which outfit will be playing hockey at Mile One Centre in the next year or two.
News this week has a group from the city inquiring seriously about icing an ECHL team in St. John’s. The erstwhile East Coast Hockey League (the name was officially shortened a few years ago) is a rung below the American Hockey League on the minor pro pecking order.
I’ve never seen an ECHL game, but by all accounts it’s a decent brand of hockey. So decent, 79 ECHL graduates were on NHL rosters on opening day this season.
The local group appears to have its ducks in a row. Finances are in place and talks have been ongoing with Mile One regarding a lease. Later this month, the group will have representatives at the league’s All-Star Classic in Bakersfield, Calif., where they will meet with the ECHL’s board of governors.
Meantime, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League isn’t dead in the water, either.
Friday morning, St. John’s Sports and Entertainment met, likely to discuss the ECHL deal and a major junior hockey plan which may be gaining momentum.
Some sources, in fact, are saying the group that includes Tony Kenny, John Fisher and Bill Kennedy (those three were also in the mix to buy a QMJHL expansion franchise back in 2005, but lost out to local businessman Derm Dobbin) have a deal in place to buy the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and relocate the team to St. John’s next season.
Maybe, but if we’ve learned anything about current Titan owner Leo-Guy Morrissette, a deal isn’t a deal until the money’s changed hands and the league is officially announcing the move.
Remember Morrissette a couple of years ago, when he was negotiating with St. John’s to transfer the Titan? The city, so confident the move was in place, was all but declaring a deal was done.
Until Morrissette issued a news release on a Sunday evening announcing a Monday morning press conference — in Bathurst, N.B. — at which time he would be discussing the team’s future.
So much for the Titan coming to Newfoundland.
St. John’s, negotiating with good intentions, had been played by a shrewd, cagey and perhaps even underhanded character.
And even if a deal is nailed down between the Kenny group and the Titan owner, will it be accepted by the QMJHL? The league, perhaps even moreso than the city, doesn’t want to see its brand fail a second time in St. John’s.
So, before the board of governors signs off on St. John’s, everything will have to be firmly in place, not the least of which is financing.
Still, things are moving, so a building that might be the most underutilized facility of its kind in Canada — name another 6,000-seat rink that doesn’t have a major tenant, namely a pro, major junior or junior A hockey team? — just might have a choice as to what league/team it prefers.
What that is might depend on which group gets to the Mile One boardroom first.
Public opinion appears to be split over pro vs. major junior, though some of the online comments about the ECHL are preposterous.
You have to wonder where some folks picked up the haughty attitude. Since when did St. John’s become a major league city, where lower-level minor pro hockey is somehow downgraded as something akin to an oafish facsimile of the pro game?
MILE ONE NEEDS HOCKEYU
Of course, it might be the same crowd that ridiculously referred to the QMJHL as “high school” hockey.
There’s no question Mile One needs a hockey team. Fifty million dollars wasn’t spent on a building to host beer league recreation skates between scattered entertainment.
Question is, will St. John’s support major junior hockey again, or AA-level minor pro?
St. John’s has often been described as a hockey town.
Explain then, please, how it was that just 2,000 or 2,500 people turned out to watch Tyler Seguin, Braydon Schenn, Jeff Skinner, Zack Kassian, Louis Leblanc, Erik Gudbranson, Ryan Johansen and the rest of Canada’s best junior-aged players at the world junior summer evaluation camp at Mile One, while across town, a full house at Jack Byrne Arena was rockin’ and rollin’ to, of all things, ball hockey?
Something tells me the biggest job facing the whole hockey-and- Mile-One-thing won’t be getting a team, but rather dragging fans out to these perceived substandard games.
Yet they fill the place for the Herder.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org