Atlantic City, N.J.
Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment has no plans on selling its American Hockey League franchise to Danny Williams or anybody else, but it is quite satisfied to keep the Jets’ farm team in St. John’s.
“To be honest,” True North chairman Mark Chipman said at Monday’s AHL all-star game, “owning an AHL team kind of a badge of honour for us.
“That’s where we learned the (hockey) business. It’s not just a commodity that we’re interested in selling.
“Beyond that, the development of hockey players is vital and you can’t overstate that. It’s particular vital to us in a market our size. We’re not going to be one of those teams taking a flyer on free agency, so we have to develop our kids and we want to control that process and be very involved. So we think ownership of the team is vital.”
True North relocated the former Manitoba Moose franchise to St. John’s last summer after Chipman and company landed the former Atlanta Thrashers in an NHL relocation deal.
True North and Danny Williams reached a agreement that will see Williams lease the St. John’s IceCaps for three years.
“And I don’t see why we wouldn’t go beyond the three years,” Chipman said. “It’s early, and we’re both just getting going, but everything is going very well. I don’t know why we wouldn’t extend. I really don’t.”
Chipman said the length of any one contract would be five years — “we’ve lived on five-year agreements” — much the same as the contracts Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment had in place when St. John’s housed the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm club.
“I don’t know if we would entertain something beyond that,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t even know how long Danny would be in wanting to go beyond that term.
“But we haven’t even discussed it. We’ve both been so busy getting up and running, and I’ve had no discussions with anybody extending it.”
Chipman admitted Winnipeg did consider Thunder Bay, Ont., when it was looking for a home for the AHL team. Like St. John’s, Thunder Bay had the population base and knowledgeable fan base.
But it didn’t — and still doesn’t — have a suitable rink.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were playing playoff games in St. John’s,” he said. “The fans there have a very strong understanding of the game and a passion for it.
“We want our players in that atmosphere. That’s what made us successful in Winnipeg — it was a hockey market, and players are held accountable in those types of markets. All those intangibles are very helpful in the development process.”