Retaining AHL no sure thing

Published on January 31, 2014

American Hockey League president Dave Andrews says he and the league will be involved in the efforts to keep the AHL in St. John’s, but in an online interview with Pete Dougherty of the Albany Times Union, Andrews also suggested there might be a lot of competition for any franchise that becomes available for relocation.

In the 20-plus minute interview (which can be accessed at tinyurl.com/lston2d), Andrews addressed a wide-range of issues, including the stated intention of the Winnipeg Jets to move their AHL franchise from St. John’s to Thunder Bay, Ont., when and if a new arena is built in the latter city.

 “St. John’s is a tremendous market in our league … there is a tremendous amount of interest on our part to find a solution and find an AHL team to relocate into St. John’s,” Andrews told Dougherty.

The remarks about St. John’s were preceded by others on Glens Falls, N.Y., which is also seeking to retain the AHL — the Adirondack Phantoms have played there for five seasons, but the Phantoms owners will be moving the franchise to Allentown (Lehigh Valley), Pa., this summer.

Andrews, in his 20th year as league president, said there are a “couple of options” that might eventually work for Glens Falls, adding he would give the city’s chances of retaining the AHL “some reasonable prospect of success.”

However, he also spoke to the demand for AHL franchises from other centres.

“The challenge right now for us is we have a ton of markets interested in having American Hockey League teams and that includes the potential of moving to the (U.S.) west coast at some point in the future.”

“There are an awful lot of options (for relocation).”

The potential for moves out west is tied to what Andrews says is the desire of western-based National Hockey League teams to have their farm teams in closer proximity.

He feels any major shift in that regard is “some time away,” but did note this sort of thinking makes keeping St. John’s as an AHL city a more difficult proposition. Still, he seems just as determined to making that proposition work.

“We need to support the desire on the part of NHL clubs to have their affiliates closer to them,” said Andrews. “That speaks well for Glens Falls. That speaks well for Albany (the New Jersey-owned Albany Devils’ lease is up in 2015) and it makes it challenging for St. John’s, but we're going to have to find a way to make that work because you can’t lose franchises that are solid as strong as St. John’s is.”

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Andrews also pointed out that the Thunder Bay arena project, which hasn’t even obtained any financing, is “preliminary to say the least.”

In fact, many projections are that if the new facility becomes a reality in the Northern Ontario city, it won’t be ready until 2017.

With the Jets’ deal to stay in St. John’s up in 2015, that might provide hope they’ll keep their AHL franchise here at least for a couple more years beyond the expiration of the present agreement. But the reality is the Jets are most likely to move the franchise after the 2014-15 season, even without an arena in Thunder Bay.

Having already indicated the distance between St. John’s and Winnipeg makes for operational difficulties — especially with the Jets’ move to the NHL’s Western Conference — it’s more likely they’ll take their AHL club to somewhere else close to Winnipeg, or maybe even to Winnipeg, in 2015, no matter what does or doesn’t happen in Thunder Bay.

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Whatever happens, the IceCaps name won’t be moving. The moniker will more than likely be adopted by any other AHL franchise that comes here. And when Winnipeg moves its AHL operations to wherever, they can be reasonably expected to be called the Jets or the Moose.

 

See ALL-STAR, page C2

Remember, Winnipeg wanted to keep the Moose nickname when the Manitoba Moose franchise relocated here in 2011, but IceCaps’ president Danny Williams insisted on something different.

At the time, Williams cited the high number of moose-vehicle accidents in Newfoundland as making for a bad connotative connection, but he now says that insistence also developed from his knowledge that the Jets could eventually leave St. John’s; from the beginning, the NHL team had privately let Williams know it would opt for Thunder Bay if it became possible.

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It’s less than two weeks before the start of the AHL’s All-Star Classic, one that will be unlike any in the league’s history, given that for the first time ever, a team representing the league will take on an international opponent, Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League. But the IceCaps want to make sure the uniqueness of the event extends beyond the ice at Mile One Centre. On Monday, Feb. 10, starting at 7:30 p.m., the IceCaps will hold a Taste of Newfoundland and Labrador — transforming the St. John’s Convention Centre into an outport community, providing out-of-province visitors a first-hand experience of our culture and heritage. In addition to live entertainment by Shanneyganock, guests — including all-star competitors and officials from the AHL and NHL — will enjoy a wide array of provincial delicacies, prepared by a half-dozen of the best local chefs. Tickets for the event go on sale noon Saturday and can be purchased at the Mile One box office, by phone (709-576-7657) or online at mileonecentre.com. The cost is $125, plus taxes and surcharges, but that will also get you into the AHL All-Star induction ceremony, to be held Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the convention centre, where Bill Dineen, Al MacNeil, Bob Perreault and St. John’s native John Slaney will be added to the league’s honour roll.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com