The Mile One Centre online calendar is looking pretty bare these days, but that could change next fall if the 10-year-old rink secures an anchor tenant not seen since the St. John’s Fog Devils junior hockey team was peddled to Montreal interests three years ago.
A group that includes St. John’s businessmen Tony Kenny and John Fisher, along with Mount Pearl lawyer Bill Kennedy, is still trying to land another Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) team for the city.
The trio was in the running, along with St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE) and St. John’s businessman Derm Dobbin, for one of two QMJHL expansion franchises up for grabs in 2005. The team was eventually awarded to Dobbin.
SJSE, the board which runs Mile One, would like to have another crack at the American Hockey League (AHL), and came close last season when the New York Islanders expressed interest in the former home of the AHL’s Maple Leafs, a team that toiled in St. John’s 14 seasons.
Those talks quickly went south when the Islanders apparently wanted St. John’s to pay a $200,000 or $250,000 penalty — over the course of a number of years — the NHL team would have incurred for breaking an existing lease in Bridgeport, Conn. That’s where New York’s top minor league affiliate is currently housed.
Now, in addition to those two leagues, comes word of yet another potential hockey opportunity — the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), which is a rung below the AHL on the minor pro hockey ladder. A group in St. John’s is so serious about an ECHL opportunity that they’re heading to Bakersfield, Calif., for the league’s All-Star Classic and board of governors meetings later this month. A source says the group has the finances in place to have a club up and running at Mile One for the fall of 2011.
The league is currently a 19-team operation, featuring an Eastern and Western Conference. There are three divisions within the East, and two in the West.
Four teams comprise each division, but one, that being the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference, has only three. It’s in the Atlantic St. John’s — or Newfoundland, depending on which geographical name ownership prefers — would play, joining the Reading, Pa. Royals, Elmira, N.Y. Jackals and Trenton, N.J. Devils.
If the St. John’s bid is accepted by the league’s board of governors, the St. John’s group would be purchasing a new franchise. ECHL teams generally sell for about $500,000 U.S.
Of course, a number of criteria must be met before a team hits the ice next fall, not the least of which is a refundable deposit on 1,500 season tickets, and an arena lease agreement in place.
While it’s still too early to start pushing tickets, the group has been speaking with Mile One management.
The biggest obstacle facing the group might be selling the ECHL (once known as the East Coast Hockey League, the league is now officially called the ECHL). Dubbing itself North America’s premier AA hockey league, the ECHL is AA ball to the AHL’s AAA ball, with the NHL being the Major Leagues, if we could use a baseball model.
The league has a weekly payroll cap of about $500-$600.
Those numbers, coupled with the franchise fee, could make for a sub-$20 ticket for fans, the source said.
If educating the public to a league that’s a relative unknown in these parts figures to be a hurdle, so, too, is the travel factor.
All franchises but one — the Victoria Salmon Kings — are located in the United States, as far south as Naples, Fla., and as far west as Anchorage, Alaska. However, like baseball’s American and National leagues, teams in the East and West play only within their conference during the regular season.
So unless St. John’s meets Las Vegas in the league final, Sin City won’t be on the Newfoundland travel itinerary.
So the Newfoundland team, according to the source, would travel by air to Newark, N.J. or Toronto and bus to Trenton, Elmira, Cincinnat, Ohio, Kalamazoo, Mich., and other ECHL cities.
“This is a viable proposition,” said the source. “And the hockey is pretty darn good. Everything adds up.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org
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