NHL returning to St. John’s

Williams says exhibition game this fall game will aid in quest to land new AHL franchise

Robin Short rshort@thetelegram.com
Published on March 14, 2014

At a press conference to announce an NHL exhibition game between the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders at Mile One Centre this coming September, St. John’s IceCaps president and CEO unveiled the team’s St. Patrick’s Day jerseys which will be worn in Saturday’s home game against the Portland Pirates.

©— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The last time Mile One Centre played host to a National Hockey League exhibition, the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators hooked up in a Kraft Hockeyville game three years ago when Conception Bay South won the nation-wide contest and the right to stage an NHL friendly.
That game, moved to Mile One from the Robert French Memorial Stadium in Kelligrews, in part to accommodate more fans, was originally scheduled to include the Senators and Atlanta Thrashers. Those plans went out the window when the Thrashers were sold to True North Sports and Entertainment and relocated to Winnipeg.

So, in addition to watching NHLers skate at Mile One, local hockey fans also had first glimpse at future St. John’s American Hockey League players as a deal between Winnipeg and St. John’s had been signed, sealed and delivered to house the Jets’ farm team in Newfoundland’s capital.

Well, the Senators are coming back, this time on Sept. 22 when Ottawa takes on the New York Islanders in an NHL exhibition at Mile One.

Which prompts the million dollar question — could this be another start to an NHL-AHL relationship, or more to the point, the start of an Ottawa-St. John’s partnership?

“This game is really important,” said St. John’s IceCaps president and CEO Danny Williams. “These are two teams where there might be some potential interest.”

The IceCaps, of course, are seeking another NHL partner after it was recently announced Winnipeg and St. John’s will part ways after their current contract expires following the 2014-15 season.

Winnipeg is partnering with a group in Thunder Bay, Ont., to build a rink which will be home to the Jets’ AHL club. If the Thunder Bay arena is not ready for the 2015-16 season, chances are the Jets will bring the AHL club to Winnipeg when the contract with St. John’s expires.

One team which has been rumoured to be a suitor for the city is the Senators, because of the relative close proximity between Ottawa and St. John’s and the fact the Senators’ minor league lease agreement expires the same time as the Winnipeg-St. John’s deal.

Except, there are two problems. Ottawa currently has a contract with Binghamton, N.Y., and secondly, that upstate New York city is only a couple of hours from Ottawa by car.

As for the Islanders, they were mentioned years ago as a potential partner for St. John’s. However, the Islanders currently have an agreement with Bridgeport, Conn., and there is talk New York could move its farm club into Nassau County Coliseum when the Isles vacant their long-time rink for the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn in 2015.

“There’s nothing confirmed with regards to an NHL partner,” Williams said. “I’m being dead honest.

“But we’re piggybacking this game on the AHL all-star game (held at Mile One in early February). That was well received, and we received a lot of exposure. We drew some NHL attention from that, and believe me, we’re well known at the AHL board level.

“This (NHL exhibition) will put us out there again. It will give us a huge lift at a very important time.”

Williams said current three-year IceCaps season-ticket holders can now renew their seats for another three years. Fans can pay for tickets next season, the Jets’ final one in St. John’s, and for a token deposit, “for wont of a better term,” Williams said, express interest in purchasing season tickets in subsequent years.

“The financial commitment is only for one year,” Williams stressed. “What we’re doing is appealing to the sense of loyalty ... the more we have renewing, it sends a strong message to NHL teams. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to a team really wanting to come here. But if they know they’ve got a sold out rink every night, that has an impact.

“It’s very, very important that we send a strong message to the rest of the AHL and the NHL that this city believes in hockey, it believes in its hockey franchise, it believes in the AHL and by doing that, they’re showing an expression of support that they’re prepared to commit in advance for three years.”

In addition to season tickets, Williams said the IceCaps’ corporate partners have also been, “extremely supportive.

“We’re saying (to NHL teams), ‘Look, we’ve got a full contingent, from fans to corporate partners, that we’re ready to go again.’”

Meanwhile, the Senators-Islanders game is the first event to be staged by IceCaps Entertainment, a newly-formed division of the IceCaps which will source and promote a wide range of sporting and entertainment events.

“We’re a preferred venue,” Williams said of Mile One and St. John’s. “People are standing up and taking notice. From an entertainment perspective, we’re drawing much better acts now into the city.

“With the connections we’ve established over the years, particularly Glenn (Stanford, the IceCaps’ governor and chief operating officer) through the AHL, people will come to us.”

In addition to hockey, Williams and Stanford both said IceCaps Entertainment will seek other sporting events, such as an NBA exhibition game.

An NBA game was to be played at Mile One in 2003, but was postponed because of humidity and condensation on the court as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors were warming up in front of a full house. That game was supposed to be Lebron James’s first as a pro, against a Raptors squad with Vince Carter at the peak of his career.

“An NBA game is on my bucket list,” Stanford said.

Williams also said IceCaps Entertainment will be going after national and international events through Hockey Canada.

“Any of these international events that will take place in a venue of our size, I think we will be at the top of the list,” he said.