Thunder Bay Event Centre Scrapped; Where True North Looks Next

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It was learned yesterday by the federal government that the Thunder Bay Event Centre will not be eligible for federal funding, thus scrapping the entire plan altogether. Of course, you can look at the politics of this from the city council being skeptical of the viability of the new arena and how profitable will be– but that is all eased over for now.

For a hockey sense, the main issue this brings up is that it could throw a little bit of a wrench in the plans the Winnipeg Jets may have to place their AHL team in Thunder Bay after the arena was built. Currently, the Jets have moved their AHL team with them into the MTS Centre in the hopes that after a couple years– they could move out to Thunder Bay.

With that plan pretty much out the window, the question is what the Jets will do now with their AHL team; as the idea of holding 41 NHL dates and 36 AHL dates holding up the MTS Centre (not to mention playoffs) may not be the best business wise for True North Sports and Entertainment, as they would probably want other big-time events to come into the arena to play their shows.

Back when the Jets extended their affiliation with the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Winnipeg Free Press had the other options about what the Jets could do when it comes to moving their AHL team closer if Thunder Bay didn’t work out.

True North has said Winnipeg could be an option for the AHL team, at least temporarily in the future, but made no promises further than it was being considered.

Other options beyond Thunder Bay were being explored — some said Fargo and Kansas City were among them — but no apparent or obvious solution has been found.

With Fargo, it is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Fargo to Winnipeg. The Scheels Arena in Fargo is home to the Fargo Force in the USHL and has a capacity of 6,000. The Force are third in the USHL attendance this season (3,521) and have averaged over 3,500 in the past five seasons. It is easy to get to around the Fargo area and has a professional feel already for a USHL team. Yet, the big question is whether or not it would be viable to give up the Fargo Force, which has low overhead for a junior hockey team– and step up to the plate for an AHL team that could need a heck of a lot more resources in that arena to fulfil the need.

The other option in Kansas City is interesting. The Sprint Center has been standing since 2007 without a primary tenant, even though planners have talked to the NHL and NBA about relocation. One hold-up could be the fact that the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owns the building and also own the LA Kings. I doubt that the Jets would want to pay the LA Kings ownership group more money in order to house their team in the Sprint Center. It could also be too big for hockey (capacity 17,544), especially when there’s an established ECHL team in the Missouri Mavericks playing 10 miles east.

Of course, there’s always the option of other markets becoming open that are near Winnipeg and some others who may work hard on actually getting something together thanks to Thunder Bay not being in the picture anymore. Not only that, True North could also hold steadfast and think they can deal with two teams in the same arena and be successful. There’s at least two years to figure it out (maybe more or even less), but True North will have to look at all the options to not only have this team be successful, but also close-by for call-ups and the like.

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Farm Report Podcast: 03.15.15

This edition of the Farm Report has Scotty talking about some of the moves made at the ECHL trade deadline, the moves made by some AHL franchises, and what the move to California could really mean for the AHL and the NHL parent teams. Rod Aldoff is none too pleased with his two-time SPHL champion Ice Flyers, while the Quad City Mallards are flying together despite call-ups and injuries. All that, plus some news and notes, as well as We Hardly Knew Ye.

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IceCaps Shift To Winnipeg, Bulldogs Run To St. John’s

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As was reported last weekend, the AHL approved the move of the St. John’s IceCaps to Winnipeg and the Hamilton Bulldogs to St. John’s for the 2015-16 season. This will put two teams in Winnipeg in the AHL and NHL, it will allow St. John’s to keep a team, albeit a different affiliation, but it will leave Hamilton without a team….temporarily.

In the short term, it helps Winnipeg out a lot when it comes to travel costs for the team up and down the roads of the AHL, as well as when it comes to recalls and demotions. Luckily, the owners of the Jets– True North Sports and Entertainment– also own the IceCaps for all intents and purposes and can make this move. Yet, the big issues is to wonder if and when the Jets will be able to move their affiliation into Thunder Bay, Ontario– a project that was supposed to be done in time for the 2017-18 season. However, due to delays and other issues; the arena could be in threat of being delayed longer or maybe indefinitely. What will happen to the Winnipeg AHL team then?? Well, other markets outside of Thunder Bay had been bandied about; one being Fargo, North Dakota– though the USHL Fargo Force may have some say about that; the other being Kansas City– who has a huge arena going unused in the middle of downtown.

For Montreal, the move does take the distance a bit further, but the Canadiens are a team that could very well afford the travel and all of that and not worry about budget or finances too, too much. More over, the branding is something that helps the Canadiens in this case. This move will get them out of the Maple Leaf-centric area of Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area and put them further east into a market that seems to be pretty mixed when it comes to who they root for. By expanding that brand, the Habs can have their fandom grow. While there are only two direct flights out of St. John’s to Montreal (via Air Canada’s website), it is in enough time for someone to be called up in the morning and get to the rink for that night’s game by 4:30 PM ET.

Also, for St. John’s, it bides them more time to find a more permanent partner for their arena. As I’ll explain later, Laval could probably be the end point for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate once that arena is done, but for this— it will now ease the year-to-year grind that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier (as well as lease holder of the IceCaps) Danny Williams would have to deal with wondering whether or not the Jets will pull out of the city at a moments notice or not, leases be damned.

Luckily for the Hamilton area, it seems that hockey will be back in the FirstOntario Centre in no time as the Bulldogs’ owner– Michael Andlauer— appears to have bought the Belleville Bulls in the OHL and will move them to Hamilton for the 2015-16 season.

For the Laval area, they thought that the new arena would be perfect for the Bulldogs to move to in order to be really close to the Canadiens and expand the brand in Quebec. Granted, that still could happen, as St. John’s looks to be just be a short-term landing point for the Habs’ AHL team until the arena is built. But then again, who knows what’s going to happen with that arena and if the Canadiens will enjoy their time with St. John’s more and more considering that they would be the only game in town and would have a lot of support from the government to keep them afloat in possible lean times.

In the short term, this helps out the Jets emencly and allows them to bide time as the whole situation in Thunder Bay gets figured out. Other than that– it’s business as usual in the minor league hockey silly season.

Farm Report Podcast– 03.08.15

A crazy end to the week has Scotty talking about the possible AHL moves between Hamilton, St. John’s, and Winnipeg (not to mention Bridgeport) that will shake up the already shook AHL alignment. Happier news from Hamilton, as Shane Bakker is a great feel-good story for the Bulldogs and psych students everywhere. Jason Shaya is a name that you may only know from the broadcast booth, but he has quite the on-ice resume as well. Monthly awards happened, plus weekly awards, new leases, new owners, and of course We Hardly Knew Ye

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Farm Report Podcast 02.08.15

On this edition of the Farm Report, Scotty talks about the purchase of the Missouri Mavericks by powerful local businessman who is determined to expand the brand of the team. Justin Cseter returned to the scene of his horrific injury and talks about how, to him, it’s not that big a deal anymore. The Canadian AHL teams are feeling a big pinch due to the declining dollar, while the ECHL reformatted their divisions for the 2015-16 season. Monthly awards, weekly awards, Arizona minor league craziness, and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Six From AHL Heading To Spengler Cup

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With the holidays coming up, so are the international holiday tournaments. Of course, the World Junior Championships are one of the big focuses, but in the minor league world– the focus is on the Spengler Cup, which is considered the oldest invitational tournament in all of international hockey. The tournament is put on by HC Davos in Davos, Switzerland and consists of six teams– HC Davos, Team Canada (a conglomeration of Canadians playing in the AHL, ECHL, and Europe), and four other teams from around the world. Last year, the Rochester Americans took the journey, but didn’t get past the first playoff round.

This year, Hockey Canada announced that six players from the AHL will be included in this years Spengler Cup roster. Goalie Drew MacIntyre (Charlotte), defensemen Brendan Mikkelson (Toronto) and Ryan Parent (Ontario/St. John’s), along with forwards Curtis Hamilton (Oklahoma City), Jerome Samson (Syracuse), and Ryan Martindale (San Antonio) will be playing under the coaching prowess of Guy Boucher in this tournament which starts on December 26th against host HC Davos.

MacIntyre, who just got his 200th career AHL win, has been so-so for the Checkers with a 9-11-2 record, 2.59 GAA, and .916 save percentage, but should be safe with a European game which will see a lot of shots from the outside. Mikkelson will provide a stay-at-home aspect for the Canadians, as he has three goals, three assists, and an even rating on a otherwise dismal Toronto team; while Parent– who had just signed in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign and was called up by the St. John’s Ice Caps due to their issues on the blue line from Winnipeg– should be a wild card who can put up points, but also be somewhat solid in his own end.

Up front, Hamilton will provide a solid two-way game, as he has 16 points in 27 games with the Barons, but also provides solid minutes on special teams, as well. Samson has been lost in the shuffle on a strong Springfield team with only a goal and seven points, but is in the top five in shots on goal for the Falcons, while Ryan Martindale will a little bit of a spark to the Canadians, as he has two goals on the power play, a goal short-handed, and should adapt well to a lot more ice around him to work on the forecheck.

With the exception of MacIntyre and Mikkelson, the other teams may not miss these players that much– though Parent leaving a team that’s in need of defense is very interesting. However, the big deal for these players is to go out and play of their country and, who knows, it could actually spark something in them to get them going from the second-half onward. Of course, it could also spark some bad traits in them going to the bigger ice surface, as well. Time will tell, but getting constant playing time over a week tournament will be an eye-opener one-way or another.

FOHS Farm Report Podcast: 12.07.14

This week in the Farm Report, we’ll talk about Scooter Vaughan’s versatility earning him a deeper role for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Connor Hellebuyck’s learning curve earning him more starts in St. John’s, and Alex Aleardi’s demotion that he’s using as a learning tool to get back into the AHL. Getting back into hockey is only part of Tristan Lysko’s story, as he looks to move up the ladder of minor pro hockey, while the month of November ended with tons of awards, a ceremonial games, and a coach firing. All that, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.

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