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Buzzer-beater: Deal bringing ECHL team to St. John's was scored just in time

The ECHL has 27 teams this season and is set to add another in Portland, Me., for 2018-19. That team, the Maine Mariners, is represented by the ECHL logo in the top right corner of the map. As well, the Colorado Eagles are joining the AHL to become affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. There will be at least one more change to the ECHL map in 2018-19 as St. John's becomes home to the Toronto Maple Leafs' affiliate in the league. This will not involve a transfer of the Orlando Solar Bears, the Leafs' current ECHL affiliate. The St. John's team, which will be locally owned, will enter the league as an expansion franchise. — echl.com
The ECHL has 27 teams this season and is set to add another in Portland, Me., for 2018-19. That team, the Maine Mariners, is represented by the ECHL logo in the top right corner of the map. As well, the Colorado Eagles are joining the AHL to become affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. There will be at least one more change to the ECHL map in 2018-19 as St. John's becomes home to the Toronto Maple Leafs' affiliate in the league. This will not involve a transfer of the Orlando Solar Bears, the Leafs' current ECHL affiliate. The St. John's team, which will be locally owned, will enter the league as an expansion franchise. — echl.com

Only a week ago, prospects for hockey at Mile One this fall didn’t look good, but things turned around quickly

Somewhere, a goaltender must have been on the bench for an extra attacker.

That’s how late in the game it was before a deal was scored to bring hockey back to Mile One Centre this fall.

Once competitors of a sort, the owners of the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge and a local group that has obtained a Toronto Maple Leafs-affiliated ECHL expansion franchise are teaming up on a hockey agreement.

Word of the deal leaked out exactly three months after St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald announced he had the ECHL franchise. However, MacDonald had been shut out when it came to getting a Mile One lease deal, in large part because of clauses in the agreement between the Edge and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE), the city-appointed entity which operates Mile One.

As late as last week, MacDonald and well-known St. John’s hockey executive Glenn Stanford were saying launch of an ECHL team for the 2018-19 season was in jeopardy because the league — and the Leafs — couldn’t wait any longer in making their plans for a new campaign. There had even been a suggestion from MacDonald they might set up shop in another city.

 

In the last couple of months, there had been some discussions between the MacDonald group and the basketball owners about the possibility of a joint hockey effort, but nothing came those conversations.

Things really bogged down when the Edge group — officially Atlantic Sports Enterprises (ASE) — announced it would be seeking arbitration after an SJSE ruling it had lost exclusive rights to bring a hockey team into the building, something that had been built into the basketball lease deal. That led to SJSE officially announcing it would not negotiate with MacDonald until the arbitration process was over.

In fact, arbitration never really got underway and that had the ticking clock ringing even louder into MacDonald’s and Stanford’s ears.

At this time last week, it did not look promising for hockey at Mile One come autumn..

But sometime over the weekend — you can just imagine someone announcing “One minute left in the period!” — things changed.

Irwin Simon, one of the Edge owners ,came to St. John’s and met with city officials. How that tied in with what followed is unclear, but phone conversations between Simon and the Stanford/MacDonald group resulted in a hockey deal that should be revealed next week.

Details won’t be available until that announcement, but the two sides are expected to share more than revenue. It’s likely the hockey and basketball teams will also share a front office to some degree.

At least that had been Stanford’s plan when he originally went after an NBL Canada team for St. John’s last spring.

He had hoped basketball could help provide a bridge between the departing American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps and some sort of hockey replacement a year or so down the road. That would have allowed Stanford — who had been the IceCaps chief operating officer — to retain much of the young hockey staff that had worked in the AHL club’s front office.

Stanford couldn’t reach a lease deal with Mile One, but Simon’s group did come to an agreement that would eventually result in the establishment of the Edge.

However, just as Stanford envisioned, many from the IceCaps front office went to work for the basketball team. He himself was with the Edge for a while as a temporary contract employee and was actually a key player in setting up the team, including the signings of head coach/GM Jeff Dunlap and star guard Carl English.

But by early December, Stanford was part of MacDonald’s ECHL effort and in competition with Simon and ASE, who had announced they had different hockey plans, initially saying they would chase down a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.

Then came three months of mostly waiting, until Wednesday’s revelations.

What changed?

Well, while it was obvious Edge/ASE was very interested in owning a hockey team to play out of Mile One, it was also obvious they would not be able to acquire one for 2018-19. What’s more, there was no clear path for them getting a major junior or minor pro franchise even in 2019-20.

And right there waiting were MacDonald and Stanford with their ECHL option. What’s more, they were tied in with the most professional hockey’s most iconic organization.

The wisdom of compromise had to be obvious.

Here’s something else to consider. The Edge owners have revealed they might have an interest in someday operating Mile One Centre. If they were serious about that, they would much rather be in charge of a facility that had an anchor hockey tenant.

That tenant will be in place by October.

As Telegram Sports Editor Robin Short wrote Wednesday, there is much to be done before a team actually skates out of Mile One. But at least a buzzer has sounded. And the good news is that it is one signifying a game is about to start, not that one had finished.

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

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