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Robin Short
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ECHL highly interested in St. John's, but won't come until 2012

Kory Falite of the Alaska Aces redirects a pass at Victoria's Salmon Kings' goaltender David Shantz during a recent ECHL game in Anchorage, Alaska. The ECHL likes the idea of expanding its current 19-team operation into St. John's.

The ECHL’s board of governors is “very interested” with the prospects of expanding to Canada’s East Coast, but if St. John’s is to be home to the pro hockey league that’s two notches below the NHL, it won’t be until the 2012-13 season.

“They think there’s a great opportunity in St. John’s,” said Dan Crummell of the capital city, who attended the ECHL’s All-Star Classic and board of governors meetings in Bakersfield, Calif., this week.

“Talking to the league commissioner (Brian McKenna) and the board of governors, they all want to come to Newfoundland.”

Crummell and Gord Pittman of Clarenville, who also maintains a residence in Ottawa, represented the potential St. John’s ownership group in Bakersfield. There are others involved in the group, but Crummell did no want to reveal those names until all are briefed on the meetings this weekend or early next week.

Crummell and Pittman left California Thursday morning.

Mile One Centre has been without an anchor tenant since 2008 when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Fog Devils left St. John’s after three seasons.

Prior to that, the American Hockey League’s Maple Leafs called St. John’s home for 14 years.

Crummell and his group have been working on the ECHL project — a league which dubs itself as North America’s premier AA minor hockey circuit —  for a month or two. The league currently has 19 teams, in Eastern and Western Conferences. Only one team, the Victoria, B.C., Salmon Kings, are based in Canada.

The St. John’s group had hoped to have things in place for a September, 2011 debut, but Crummell said those plans were nixed by the league’s board.

The reason, he said, simply came down to the fact the board did not want to rush into things.

“Their past experience has showed that teams that were rushed into the league did not meet with great success,” he said. “They want to ensure every detail is worked out before a team hits the ice.”

McKenna, a P.E.I. native who was vice-president and general manager of the Carolina Monarchs when that club was part of the AHL, is expected to visit St. John’s and tour Mile One Centre within the next week or two. The St. John’s group will meet with the board again in Las Vegas in June, at which time a formal vote on St. John’s will be conducted.

But before that happens, the St. John’s group must first have a lease in place for Mile One Centre and deposits in place on at least 1,500 season tickets.

In Vegas, the group will have to play $100,000 on the $475,000 U.S. franchise fee — or membership, as the league calls it — and a $10,000 non-refundable application fee.

Crummell maintains the money is in place.

The ECHL isn’t the only hockey league looking to call Mile One Centre home. A local group is hot after the QMJHL again — specifically buying and transferring the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to St. John’s — and there is still some kicking of the tires for another AHL franchise for St. John’s.

And Mile One isn’t said to be playing favourites. Rather, the first in through the doors with a team looking for a home gets first dibs.

“The only thing we believe is standing in our way is the AHL or the Q,” Crummell said, “and we understand that.

“If the Q shows up tomorrow or next week or next month looking to go next season, we’re dead in the water. We fully accept that.”

For now, the ECHL group will wait a few weeks to see what shakes out on the other two hockey fronts. The group has a self-imposed deadline of April to have things in place before meeting with the ECHL’s board in Vegas.

“All indications are very positive,” Crummell said.

Teams in the ECHL only play within their conference. The Cincinnati Cyclones of the East, for example, could only meet the Western Conference’s Alaska Aces if they played in the final.

“We actually met with the Alaska people,” Crummell said. “In terms of travel and everything else, they are almost identical to our business model.”

One of the questions the board did have of the St. John’s group was about how familiar Newfoundland — and eastern Canada, for that matter — was of the ECHL.

When it was known as the East Coast Hockey League, the league was a rough and tumble operation. But with the dissolving of the International Hockey League and other low-level minor pro leagues, the ECHL has seen its skill level increased substantially. The NHL featured 79 graduates of the ECHL on its 2010-11 opening-day rosters.

Among the more popular players to play in the ECHL are Boston’s Michael Ryder and Alexandre Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks.

The league, however, is best known for grooming goalies. Among the NHL puckstops this year who have appeared in the ECHL are Tim Thomas (Boston), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis), Alex Auld (Montreal), Johan Hedberg (New Jersey), Martin Biron (New York Rangers), Jason LaBarbera (Phoenix) and Mike Smith (Tampa Bay).

“This is a very well-run operation,” Crummell said of the ECHL. “We’re not talking about a Mickey Mouse outfit.

“This league is for real. These guys are 21- and 22-year-old kids right out of university or junior who still want to pursue a pro career. It definitely not amateur senior hockey ... not even close.”

The ECHL All-Stars beat the Bakersfield Condors 9-3 in the 19th all-star game Wednesday. Mark Arcobello, an All-American and All-Ivy League player at Yale, scored three goals for the All-Stars. Chris Langkow, who enjoyed a five-year junior hockey career in Spokane and Saskatoon, had two goals along with Ryan Ginand, who was a Hockey East conference all-star while attending Northeastern University.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: East Coast Hockey League, NHL, American Hockey League Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Maple Leafs Carolina Monarchs All-Stars Cincinnati Cyclones International Hockey League New York Rangers All-Ivy League

Geographic location: California, Canada, Newfoundland St. John's Las Vegas Bakersfield, Calif. Ottawa Bakersfield North America Eastern and Western Conferences Victoria Canada.The St. John P.E.I. U.S. Boston Alaska Los Angeles St. Louis Montreal New Jersey Phoenix Tampa Bay Spokane Saskatoon

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  • Curtis
    January 30, 2011 - 17:22

    "Teams in the ECHL only play within their conference. The Cincinnati Cyclones of the East, for example, could only meet the Western Conference’s Alaska Aces if they played in the final." That is completely wrong. My home team (The Elmira, NY Jackals), in just this season have played against the Alaska Aces, Las Vegas Wranglers and possibly the Victoria Salmon Kings that I can think of offhand.

  • HockeyFanNL
    January 28, 2011 - 22:57

    I have to say that I am a bit relieved. I think that St. John's should go for a higher league because contrary to what most might think around here the Q or any other major junior league is higher quality than the ECHL. 79 players from the ECHL are now playing in the NHL? I would be willing to bet that there are more players from the Major Junior Leagues who have either went from their respective leagues to either the AHL or the NHL than what has come from the ECHL to the NHL. That being said, though, I am sure that the guys who run the teams in the WCHSL are probably salivating at the thought of St. John's getting an ECHL team because it will make their scouting for imports that much cheaper as they won't have to go away to scout players anymore. Wonder how many players would jump ship when they realize that there are players in the WCSHL probably making more than them a weekend?

  • Robert
    January 28, 2011 - 18:19

    Let me get this straight. These guys expect me to plunk down a deposit for season tickets to see a team that does not exist yet, and if another team/league gets here first, then do it all over again? Yeah, right. Teams only play in their conference? Let's hope Las Vegas doesn't ice a team good enough to draw a crowd. Then again, this is the ECHL. A League made up of players who aren't good enough to make the NHL garbage pile. No Chance of missing any Crosbies there. Metro area hockey fans remind me of a Simpsons episode where the family is going to a minor league ballgame. Homer tells Bart that he may see an up and coming star. Bart, dissapointedly, remarks that he was hoping to see some washed up major leaguers. To which Homer replies, "Oh sure! We get a nice mix here." As a multiple year season ticket holder of the Cape Breton Oilers in the 90's, I did get to see the likes of Grant Fuhr, Dennis Bonvie, and Shawn Van Allen, but I also had to endure Pokey Reddick and Link Gaetz. As a three year season ticket holder to the Fog Devils, I watched Pavlek, and Adam, who are going forward in their professional careers, as well as Mario Kempe, Patrick Okeefe, Ryan Graham, and Nick Bachand. These may not be household names, but they played some extremely entertaining hockey! While we're on the subject, could some PLEASE explain the attraction with the Maple Laffs? They made it to the Calder cup in their first season, but that was it. I remember the year the Oilers won the Calder cup, and we were facing the Laffs in the second round. Everyone was worried, because they were considered to be a top ranked team, having been to the final. When they showed up, we swept them in four straight! Face it St. John's...THEY SUCKED!!!! Get over yourselves and get behind a team that could possibly have a whole mess of local boys, play cities close enough to actually establish a rivalry, and give your kids the opportunity to be watching an NHL game and instead of saying "I watched him play in St. John's", saying "I went to school and hung around with him in St. John's." Sure, the league was known for its undisiplined game in which lots of mistakes are made, but you know what? Those mistakes are what made the game so exciting! It meant NO score was safe, no victory was assured, as proven the night the Foggies roared back from a 5-1 deficit in the third to win the game 6-5. The winning goal was scored with 0.7 seconds left in regulation! Now that was exciting! Sure, sometimes you may have to sit there when one of your guys screwes up and blows a lead, and the game, but on more than one occasion, you'll get to savor the visiting team doing the same. I guess this next sentence needs no saying, but Major Junior or nothin! It's good enough for EVERY major city in the country, what the hell makes us too good?

  • don
    January 28, 2011 - 17:27

    People will have to see that the ahl of today is not like the ahl of the 90's like when the leafs where here.People wants the ahl but because we are on a island and we have to pay the way in for away team so,where do you think the money comes for this if the tickets are not $25plus.I think if the q was brought here and marketed right we can have a team that would be a contenter for the league title in a few years.Anyone remeber how saint john started out?

  • Steve-O
    January 28, 2011 - 17:19

    People want the AHL people want the Q, People get it through your heads the first league that shows interest whether you like it or don't show support. I thought NLers were suppose to be the Patriots of this country when it comes to provincial pride, (Actually that sounds like a good name St. John's Patriots a name that not only get the city can get behind it but the province and exPatroits that had to leave for work) so we have to support whatever comes here because we will run out of options if we don't support it, because we need a team a hell of a lot more than any of these leagues need us, three maybe going on four years have been enough already. I.m supporting whatever comes here, and when this team goes on the road I'll be supporting the Senior League. GO Pats GO!!!!! has a nice ring to it.

  • Anon
    January 28, 2011 - 14:13

    Ricky Bobby. I find your comment ignorant on so many levels. First, my travels about this continent have no bearing on this conversation--but for your information, I have traveled throughout Canada and the U.S and have seen several sports events along the way. Ottawa games don't sell out because the team doesn't perform well enough all the time. But I recall in the first few years of the past decade where they sold out constantly, won the presidents trophy and went to the conference finals and a few years later went to the stanley cup finals and I'd say by the looks of the crowds on tv they don't have nearly as many problems selling tickets as either the st.johns leafs or the fog devils did. Also, considering the huge fan base of habs and Leafs in the region, it would not be unwise to make the argument that a fair number of Greater Ottawa residents travel to Toronto and Montreal for those games. This would perhaps explain why the place is full when ever there is a home game against these two teams. But clearly I wouldn't know this because I'm probably someone who doesn't travel? Mount Pearl is hardly the middle of nowhere. it's surrounded by st.johns. LITERALLY surrounded by st.johns. There is a parking lot, there is a reliable network of trails that lead to the venue from various surrounding streets which could handle the load from increase on-street parking around the area. There is a number of large parking lots within a 5 minute walk of the Glacier. The glacier is being renovated to handle large events and is managed by a city that isn't running a massive deficit and hasn't established its municipality as the laughing stack of Canada. At least not nearly as much as Sin jawns. The roads surrounding the Glacier are large 4 lane roads (old placentia, ruth av, smallwood dr. and of course the TRANS CANADA HIGHWAY! If you are going to rebut me, please make a more intelligent comment than "you don't live on the mainland and mount pearl is the middle of nowhere" Telegram:please allow comments to contain structured paragraphs.

    • Karl
      January 31, 2011 - 08:08

      This is out of the mouth of a real city boy I bet?????? Loser

  • Steve
    January 28, 2011 - 13:50

    Why go the ECHL route? The senior hockey being played in NL right now is already comparable to this level. If not QMJHL hockey it needs to be AHL! The ECHL will simply not draw the numbers to sustain a profitable team.

    • Marty
      January 28, 2011 - 18:01

      I agree 100% with you Steve. I think it will be too hard to sell this league in St.John's. I have tried to research it and it does seem like a step above our senior teams here in NL. But, who is going down to mile one to watch players who are slightly better than senior players. I really think that the only viable option is the AHL. It doesn't seem like that will happen, so the Q woul be the only other option. I think the ECHL will fail here. I'm not trying to be a pessamist but rather a realist.

  • Rickey Bobby
    January 28, 2011 - 12:05

    ANON, I guess you're another person who has never left the rock or understand business. All Canadian NHL teams sell out except Ottawa...WHY?? Ottawa's rink is in the middle of no where aka. Mountpearl.

  • Bill
    January 28, 2011 - 11:48

    Please bring a franchise to Mile One. As a former forces member who was based out of Halifax, I was a season ticket holder of the Halifax Mooseheads and will be a season ticket holder for a franchise here. I totally agree that the biggest problem here was the price of the tickets and parking. This has to be addressed first and foremost. As for a team it should be a AHL team looking for a better fan base or a QMJHL team with an already established team that the fans can get behind right away. As for a team name, have a contetst and let the fans come up with a name and logo. Finally, please (St John's Sports and Entertainment) stay out of the way of a private group bringing in a team and this time work with them and not against them to ensure the franchise's longevity. We will soon run out of options and potential suitors for a "Anchor Tennant"

  • Getreal
    January 28, 2011 - 11:15

    Just get something done and stop with the teaser articles. and yeah, go Leafs go....and take the raptors with you!

  • Anon
    January 28, 2011 - 11:01

    put the team in the glacier and there will be tickets sold. The leafs and the Fog Devils couldn't sell tickets, not because they sucked, but because you needed to take the metro bus from the other side of st.johns after you finally found a place to park your car. Location, Location, Location. Mile One should have been built on Kelsey Drive anyway. But the Glacier has a parking lot and a large middle class population within walking distance. It just makes sense. In fact, it makes too much sense so we'll probably see a future hockey team go to St. Johns. P.S Telegram, your captcha sucks, no one is ever going to spam the site of a newspaper in nowhere's ville canada. Just get what VOCM got-- a simple number key. I feel bad for your senior readers that try to comment on these articles.

  • Taxpayer
    January 28, 2011 - 10:24

    The AHL made sense in the 1990's when all the other teams were located in the Maritimes. If they are to come back to St. John's, it should be run by a private group with no subsidies from the Municipal govt. The question is will Council allow a private group to run the club. They have done everything to stop this in the past.

  • Telling it like it is
    January 28, 2011 - 09:44

    Bring in a pro (AHL / ECHL) or junior (QMJHL) team needs to happen in two phases. Phase 1 - Find a buyer and interest. This article seems to imply there is interest so I won't repeat what's already written above. It looks promising so get it done, but get it done right. Phase 2 - Creating a product people actually want to PAY to watch. Now if I was placed in charge of this team, this is how I would lure people to these games, 1 - People who live in the metro regions love their cars and I mean they LOVE their cars. They won't go anywhere without them, but lets face it, downtown St. John's has crap parking. So.... The first 'x' number (oh, lets say 500) of season-ticket holders get free game-night parking at specified downtown locations (for example, Delta, Murray Premises, Atlantic Place, etc.). 2 - All game tickets, the price includes the ability to use, WHAT SHOULD BE USED - PARK AND RIDE. People - GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULLS THAT PARK AND RIDES IS EASIER THAN DRIVING AROUND DOWNTOWN FOR 20 MINUTES TRYING TO FIND A PARKING SPOT. 3 - Team name. IF a team is brought here....the team will need an identity that the everyday person can identify with. Name the team the St. John's Capitals, go retro with the uniforms of yesteryear - Retro is the "in" thing. 4 - Call ups from the East or West Coast Senior League would allow for some local talent "who never got the chance" in their earlier years would allow for some local names to get kicked around. People like cheering for people from the same city / similar background.

  • Mallrat
    January 28, 2011 - 09:32

    Love or hate the St.John's Maple Leafs, one thing was certain...Hockey fans all over the Rock were treated to some Great Action and Fantastic Memories. With that said, Newfoundland hockey fans have all but most certainly been Spoiled by AHL action. Of all people, Mr.Crummell with his experience in a particular side of the Sales industry (which gave him MUCH exposure to St.John's AHL hockey) should know that Newfoundlanders want AHL or NOTHING! It's as simple as that. I think it's commendable that multiple groups are working in the trenches to bring back some sort of hockey to Mile One, however as a person who wants to buy season tickets it's AHL or bust for me and many I have spoken with Today. Hockey at Mile One is more than taking the Kids out for an afternoon or evening performance, the buyers of these tickets spending the family income need to feel there is a Product worth buying. Corporate season ticket sales are no gauge on whether this will work or not either, the last going off Fog Devils season tickets couldn't be given away. I would suggest that Crummell and Clan focus on an AHL team as well and work it from both sides, which ever consortium can deliver the team first like the article reads Is In. Good Luck Mallrat.

  • Bob
    January 28, 2011 - 08:25

    If the prices are reasonable, I would go to a game. When the Fog Devils replaced the Leafs, the cost of a game was about the same. The Devils should have been cheaper. Also give a cheaper price for the kids. Parents do not want to spend $100 to take 2 kids to a hockey game. Lower the prices for the kids and get them interested. These are your future fans. They won't be interested if dad won't take them to the game.

  • est le but
    January 28, 2011 - 08:22

    this just might work...the calibre of play has improved...ticket prices might be cheaper than an AHL game and it is does not have the stygma of Junior hockey attached to it like the Q. besides, after 14 yrears of watching a team affiliated with the Laffs ( which hasn't done anything since '67: can it be any worse than that...i think not. lastly, we can have a nickname synonymous with something local...e.g. St.John's Blizzard...good luck people...oh and GO HABS GO!

    • Leafs
      January 28, 2011 - 09:47

      I would support this level of hockey, good entertainment and reallly good hockey. It's about time we get another professional team for Mile One. And, ahem, Go Leafs Go....