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BRENDAN McCARTHY: A brand new hockey game at Mile One in St. John's?

Joe Gibbons/The Telegram — John Graham, who brokered the deal to bring the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge to Mile One Centre, speaks during to reporters outside the Edge’s dressing room at Mile One on Thursday.
Joe Gibbons/The Telegram — John Graham, who brokered the deal to bring the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge to Mile One Centre, speaks during to reporters outside the Edge’s dressing room at Mile One on Thursday.

Edge ownership reiterates it’s after a QMJHL team, but indications are ECHL talk might be more than rumour, only that another group is involved

I am getting to the age where every so often, I‘ll find myself in some location wondering “Why am I here?”
It is not a philosophical query about the meaning of life.
I’ll simply be in a room with no immediate recollection of why I entered. Fortunately, each time I have able to eventually to figure out the purpose of my presence.
I had such an experience Thursday morning at Mile One Centre.

 

 

 


At 9:02 a.m., the St. John’s Edge announced they were holding a news conference at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Edge dressing room at Mile One. This falls into the “hastily called” range, which usually means some important revelation is about to take place.
Not to be dismissive of the principals involved, but at first glance, there was nothing earth-shaking revealed Thursday morning.
The announcements were, in order, that Edge head coach Jeff Dunlap had been named general manager of the National Basketball League of Canada team, that Mount Pearl’s Trevor Murphy would be the club’s director of operations and assistant general manager, and that the ownership group was actively looking into bringing a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise to St. John’s.
In truth, Dunlap has been the team’s de facto GM ever since he was hired as coach, and has been recruiting and negotiating with players as he built a roster. Murphy has been the full-time employee heading up operations pretty much since the franchise was approved — he is simply getting a title that falls in line with his established duties. As for the work towards bringing a QMJHL team here, it’s been known ever since NBL Canada and St. John’s were mentioned in the same breath that establishment of a pro basketball team would be in concert with efforts to find a hockey replacement tenant at Mile One for the American Hockey League’s IceCaps, who left earlier this year.
In early July, former NBL Canada commissioner David Magley told The Telegram the plan of the Edge ownership group included work at getting a QMJHL team. Later that same month, Edge co-owner Robert Sabbagh confirmed for The Telegram that his group’s initial interest in St. John’s was based on owning a hockey team here.
John Graham, the Toronto-based promoter who had negotiated the deal to bring a pro basketball team to St. John’s and who was front and centre Thursday morning, did say the Edge ownership group — which also includes Glace Bay, N.S., native and health-food magnate Irwin Simon — was considering the possibility of someday adding a pro soccer or football team to their stable as part of a “commitment to year-round entertainment, for St. John’s.”
But those plans could be labelled long-range, since construction of new facilities would likely be required in either instance. In fact, in prefacing his remarks on the same, Graham said the ownership group had simply requested a survey as to whether locals would prefer soccer — where he specifically mentioned the Canadian Premier League, due to start up next year — or football, where the focus on a league was a little more nebulous
Graham did speak strongly about the ownership group's commitment to the Edge, who have been a big success nine games into their intiial season, and to the eventual acquisition of a hockey team. But it didn't seem like either assertation would have required a news conference.
So, at some point during Thursday’s Mile One get-together, I found myself wondering “Why am I here?”
The answer, the “a-ha!” moment, came when Graham was asked whether his group ever had interest in bringing the ECHL to St. John’s, since rumours that the minor pro hockey league was a Mile One option had been circulating the last few months.
Graham, was frankly, dismissive of the ECHL, noting the league had only one Canadian franchise (the Brampton Beast) and that most of its teams were located in non-traditional hockey markets. The suggestion was the more knowledgeable hockey fans in Newfoundland might be less accepting of the pro circuit compared to the QMJHL.
 “(The AHL) has moved on,” said Graham. “The next best thing is Quebec Major Junior. We want quality. Anything less than that, we don’t consider quality.”
With that, a buzzer sounded in my head.
There it was, the reason for the news conference. And, it seemed, also a confirmation of something else that has been circulating — that the ECHL rumours are more than talk, that there are actually real efforts underway to bring that pro hockey league here, but obviously now, by some group other than Graham’s.
It occurred that what had raised me out of my Thursday a.m. reverie was the symbolic buzzer that signified the start of a new game, one that won’t be played out on a rink or a pitch, but on the field of business.
Major junior versus minor pro? Q versus Coast?
It appears that could very well be the face-off, although the lineup for ECHL proponents, if they do indeed exist, has yet been announced.
Stay tuned. There may be no hockey at Mile One this winter, but there very well could be a hockey competition involving the building.

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

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