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This article was published 12/3/2015 (1904 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The American Hockey League’s board of governors today approved a request by True North Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Winnipeg Jets, to move its AHL franchise back to Winnipeg for the start of the 2015-16 season.
True North’s AHL team had been playing in St. John’s, N.L., as the IceCaps since 2011.
There was no word today on the name of the returning team, which was formerly the Manitoba Moose.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said this afternoon the business and branding information would be rolled out soon.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Cheveldayoff said True North was grateful to Williams and his St. John’s group.
"From everyone at True North... we’d like to thank the city of St. John’s, (IceCaps COO) Glenn Stanford, for the just exceptional job they have done in hosting our American League team for time they had it," Cheveldayoff said. "They received it under very quick circumstances and it’s been a model franchise.
"We in Winnipeg hope you will remember us fondly. We came close to winning a championship there and you have served us well there."
The AHL also approved a transfer of the Montreal Canadiens’ development team from Hamilton, Ont., to St. John’s, filling the hole at Mile One Centre.
True North has owned an AHL franchise since 2001 and operated the Manitoba Moose here until 2011, when it acquired the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers and moved them to Winnipeg.
That’s when the Moose were transferred to St. John’s, leased to a new hockey business run by former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams. The first deal was for three years, and was twice extended for one season. The second extension has been abandoned now that St. John’s has acquired, at least temporarily, the Habs’ AHL team.
The Habs have also been approved to purchase their AHL affiliate from sole owner Michael Andlauer at the end of this season. The NHL team is expected to move its AHL club within two or three years to suburban Laval, Que. where a new 10,000-seat arena is underway.
The Jets, meanwhile, are bringing their AHL team home to share the MTS Centre with the NHL team. The move is open-ended but likely temporary. The organization is still looking for a long-term solution to the former St. John's location that would make it easier for the Jets to monitor AHL players and reduce travel time to and from Winnipeg.
True North is interested in the ongoing drive to construct a new arena in downtown Thunder Bay, Ont., where it has pledged its AHL team as a main tenant if the city can get the 5,700-seat project built.
No ground has been broken there and a funding requests to government are pending. A hard deadline for that project approaches at the end of this month, given its projected completion in 2017.
In Hamilton, where an AHL team has played since 1996, moves are expected quickly that could bring a major-junior Ontario Hockey League team to the FirstOntario Centre this fall. Reports today say the Belleville Bulls have been sold to Bulldogs’ owner Michael Andlauer and could well move to Hamilton for next season.
The last OHL team to play in Hamilton was in 1991.
The St. John's IceCaps released a statement to coincide with the announcement Thursday:
Owner, President and CEO of the Montreal Canadiens Geoff Molson, along with CEO Danny Williams and COO Glenn Stanford of the St. John’s IceCaps, announced today that starting in the 2015-16 season, Mile One Centre will be the new home of the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate team (currently the Hamilton Bulldogs). Mr. Williams will lease the franchise from the Canadiens organization. The relocation of the franchise has been unanimously approved by the AHL Board of Governors.
"We could not be more thrilled to partner with the Montreal Canadiens and to welcome this legendary hockey organization to St. John’s," said Mr. Williams. "We have proven within the league that St. John’s is a thriving hockey city, with an outstanding fan base and a great depth of corporate support. We enjoyed a tremendous partnership with True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets, but circumstances have changed and we now look forward to this exciting new partnership. I have every confidence that our fan base and corporate partners will be as enthusiastic about this new arrangement as are management."
"We are delighted in making St. John’s our new home and look forward to playing in front of fans who have long been Canadiens supporters and who will now have an opportunity to watch our finest prospects as they hone their skills with our AHL affiliate team," said Mr. Molson.
"Having previously worked with the Canadiens organization in Hamilton for many years, I am excited to welcome them to my hometown," said Mr. Stanford. "No doubt this will create a whole new dynamic at Mile One Centre in the upcoming season and promises to be an exciting new chapter for our organization and our fans. We want to thank the Jets organization for their outstanding support over the past four years. And I would also like to personally thank AHL President Dave Andrews and the league for working so hard along with us to facilitate this new arrangement."
The agreement between the IceCaps and the Montreal Canadiens is for two seasons. The name of the St. John’s AHL team will remain the IceCaps and new uniforms will be released in the coming months.
Mr. Williams also took time to praise current and past IceCaps players and coaching staff for their contributions in building the franchise in this city.
"We have been fortunate to have some outstanding talent come though this organization and each and every player who has worn the IceCaps jersey has played an invaluable role in building the franchise," said Mr. Williams.
"They have also been incredible role models within the community and have been both aspirational and inspirational for our young athletes. And of course, the coaching staff and their support team have been just great to work with and we wish them all the very best as they move forward. The current edition of the IceCaps remains in the hunt for a play-off position and I know our fans will continue to support this team as it makes another run for the Calder Cup."
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Updated on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 6:33 PM CDT: Adds quotes from Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
7:49 PM: Tweaks wording in 12th paragraph about a long-term solution.