It appears as though St. John’s may have to prepare to lose a second American Hockey League (AHL) franchise in a less than a decade as it was released Tuesday that the St. John’s IceCaps franchise could find themselves leaving the province.
An official with the IceCaps organization confirmed, but later retracted a report which stated that True North Sports and Entertainment would be bring its AHL team to Thunder Bay which could happen as soon as the end of next season.
However, although reports were denied, True North, the company which owns the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets stated that the AHL team would be playing hockey from another home base.
“True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Hockey Jets Club are excited about the prospect of operating our American Hockey League (AHL) franchise in Thunder Bay,” said a statement given to reporters in Thunder Bay. – As per CBC.ca
“We are well aware of the community’s rich hockey tradition and are confidence that Thunder Bay would be a great location to develop our future prospects,” the statement said.
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams who is the president and CEO of the IceCaps, and the head of the group which brought the team to Newfoundland says he wasn’t surprised of the situation.
“It wasn’t a surprise, we knew the process was under way.” Williams continued, “I’m not shocked, I’m not pissed off, I’m not upset. I’m disappointed the Jets could leave the city, but by the same token, it’s not something we had no idea was coming.”
However, although Williams said he was disappointed the IceCaps would be leaving, he doesn’t see it being the end of professional hockey in Newfoundland as he said, “From my own perspective, I’m quite prepared to go out and buy a franchise, too. If a franchise is available, I’m prepared to buy it to keep professional sport here in the city.”
True North Sports and Entertainment and Mr. Williams had initially agreed to 3-year deal, which was later extended until the end of next season. When that contract expires, the IceCaps are free to leave and move wherever they please. It isn’t uncommon for a NHL franchise to relocate its AHL partner closer to the team to eliminate issues such as closer for call ups in emergency situations, and helps lower cost of travel.
The team has no doubt had good standing within the AHL community, and the league should see St. John’s as a prime location to obtain another AHL franchise. Since moving to Newfoundland, the IceCaps, formally the Manitoba Moose has seen two consecutive sellout seasons.
The IceCaps, who currently sit 8th place in the Eastern Conference reached the Eastern Conference Final in its inaugural season. The IceCaps will host the AHL All-Star Classic next month in St. John’s.