Post by IceCat on Jan 23, 2015 9:18:21 GMT
If it seems like we've been through this saga before, well - we have. 10 years after the IceCats left Worcester their replacement may now also be heading west, leaving Central Massachusetts hockey fans like me in limbo once again.
End looks near for Worcester Sharks
by Bill Ballou, Telegram and Gazette staff
WORCESTER — The long and painful wait for Worcester Sharks fans is nearing its inevitable end, and signs increasingly point to an official announcement about the fate of the team by the end of this month.
The latest piece of evidence is a story by Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury-News saying that his paper has learned Worcester will be moved to San Jose's SAP Center for the 2015-16 season, a likelihood that was first reported by the Telegram & Gazette five weeks ago.
To date, no one involved in the proposed West Coast move has confirmed it on the record, but AHL president Dave Andrews came closest last month when he said that Worcester's future in the league was "a good question," and that he would not rule out the possibility that any city that loses a team finds a replacement within the AHL.
Sharks executives Joe Will, who runs the hockey end of the Worcester franchise, and Jon Gustafson, in charge of business dealings, are expected to be in the city this weekend and attend the All-Star Classic early next week in Utica, New York.
The AHL Board of Governors will meet there on Monday, which could be when all the loose ends are tied up and an official announcement is made. San Jose executives have said that their first priority in releasing any information about a possible move would be to tell their employees here.
A move to San Jose would give the AHL three franchises that share a city with a National Hockey League team. Chicago has the Blackhawks and Wolves, who are not affiliated. Toronto has the Maple Leafs and Marlies, who are. None of those teams share a building with anybody else, though.
Only two previous AHL franchises have played in the same building as their NHL partners and neither setup worked out very well, although many years have passed since it was tried. The Canadiens put the Montreal Voyageurs into the old Forum in 1969-70. While the Voyageurs were a tremendous team, by 1970-71 they were playing some home games in Halifax, Nova Scotia and moved there for good in 1971-72.
Also in 1971-72, at the height of the Bobby Orr hysteria, the Bruins put their AHL team in the original Boston Garden and the Braves drew sellout crowds throughout the winter. However, the WHA Whalers moved into town the next year and by 1973-74 the Braves were at the Rindge Arena in Braintree.
Toronto also had the Roadrunners playing at Ricoh Coliseum in 2003-04, then that franchise moved to Edmonton for the lockout year of 2004-05. The most successful two-team city has been Philadelphia, where the Phantoms were extremely popular playing in the old Spectrum before that building was razed after the 2009 season. Less successful were the Philadelphia Firebirds, who played in downtown Philly from 1977-79, then moved to Syracuse.
When the Worcester IceCats were purchased by a group in Peoria, Illinois, and relocated there for the 2005-06 season — a move that did not work — the DCU Center had no hockey for that winter, but convinced San Jose to move its affiliate from Cleveland to here for 2006-07.
With that experience in mind, DCU Center and city officials have been working quietly at finding a possible replacement for the Sharks, perhaps from the ECHL. That league stands to lose three California cities to the AHL move — Ontario, Bakersfield and Stockton. It has never had a team in New England before and the closest ECHL franchise to Worcester right now is Elmira, New York.
Sharks minor league team moving to SAP Center
by Mark Purdy
Next winter, ice hockey at the SAP Center will have company: More ice hockey.
The Sharks will move their minor league Worcester franchise in Massachusetts to SAP Center for the 2015-16 season, this newspaper has learned. The team will play between 30 and 40 games in downtown San Jose, filling vacant dates at the arena.
The move is an unconventional one. No other NHL team shares a building with its minor league affiliate, although the Toronto Maple Leafs' minor league team, the Marlies, plays in the same city at a different arena.
The Marlies and the Worcester Sharks are members of the American Hockey League, comprised of the NHL's top developmental teams. It has long been speculated that the AHL would soon shift five or six teams to the West Coast, where they would be more conveniently located to NHL parent franchises in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Calgary and perhaps one or two others.
"There have been talks for a number of years about a Pacific division for the AHL," acknowledged John Tortora, chief operating officer of the San Jose Sharks. "The AHL and NHL are working cooperatively to find a solution. But there are still many steps to take and many issues remain unresolved."
Tortora would not confirm that the Worcester team would be playing at SAP Center next season. But other sources have called it a done deal. Initial reports of the Sharks' decision surfaced on a Southern California hockey blog, Mayors Manor. Further information has leaked in recent days. Details probably will be firmed up this weekend at the AHL All-Star game during a meeting of league executives.
If all goes as planned, the AHL's entire western strategy will then be officially announced at a Jan. 29 news conference inside SAP Center.
Worcester has been a challenging situation for the Sharks in terms of drawing fan support because it is located in the heart of Boston Bruins country. And like other western NHL teams, there have been logistical issues when minor league players from eastern locations must fly across the country when they are called up from the AHL roster. Moving the Worcester team westward makes sense.
The surprising twist, however, is the decision to have the minor league team play in the same building as the NHL Sharks. Most observers speculated that the Sharks would place the Worcester franchise in Stockton or Fresno or elsewhere in California.
However, the Sharks' front office apparently decided that it would be a benefit to have their top prospects playing not just next door but literally inside the same doors.