Avalanche Owner Announces Intent To Sell Team

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Avalanche owner announces intent to sell team

The Alaska Avalanche are on the verge of franchise history.

The Avs are five wins shy of setting a single-season mark, and the team may be primed for its deepest postseason run during the squad’s seven-year stay in the Valley.

Things may seem bright for the short-term, but the long-term future of the Palmer-based North American Hockey League Junior A franchise is very much in doubt. Earlier this week, Avalanche owner Mark Lee announced he intends to sell the team, but hopes to see the organization stay in the Valley. Lee also confirmed the Avs are one of seven teams allowed to declare dormancy for the 2012-13 season.

"We’ve done everything we could to keep the team here. What we’re looking for is someone to step in and take the team over and keep the team in the Valley," said Lee, who also announced he has been diagnosed with cancer. "With my health, I literally just can’t go any further."

Lee has been with the local Junior A Tier II hockey franchise since 2005 and has operated as sole owner since 2008. With Lee at the helm of the franchise, the Avalanche have made three straight trips to the NAHL playoffs, with a fourth consecutive trip impending. Alaska also netted a franchise-record 32 wins in back-to-back years. He led the organization through a major move, as the team shifted from the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla to its new home at the MTA Events Center in Palmer.

But recent struggles complicated by concerns about his health have forced Lee to need to part ways with the team.

"I really feel bad, but I just can’t go anymore," Lee said.

Lee said he has set up a nonprofit group made up of members of the local community familiar with the franchise, and that group could have access to the use of a gaming license by September.

"We need to figure out a way to keep the team here," Lee said.

The franchise is two years through a five-year deal with the city of Palmer, which makes the team a flagship tenant of the MTA Events Center.

"Palmer’s just been a great place to play, great city to work with," Lee said. "Palmer’s done a tremendous job trying to improve the rink. It’s coming a little slowly, but they’re helping out as best they can."

Work is being done to increase the seating capacity of the MTA Events Center.

"We’ll have the capacity to seat over 1,200 when they’re done," Lee said.

The Avalanche moved from Wasilla to Palmer prior to the 2010-11 season to reduce expenses. Since the move, there has also been a tremendous drop in the team’s attendance numbers. During the Avs’ final year in Wasilla, the team averaged 926 fans per home game. That number dropped to 528 per home game during the team’s first season in Palmer. This year, the average, according to the NAHL, is 417.

"We really do need the fans back," Lee said. "It’s funny, they’ll go into Anchorage for an Aces game, but won’t drive to Palmer for an Avalanche game."

Lee said he’s seen a divide in the local hockey community since his time as owner as the team.

"Let’s put all the attitude and feelings aside and embrace this wonderful group of young men who have brought an awful lot to Palmer, Wasilla, the whole Valley," Lee said.

Lee said several things could still happen. The team could be sold and kept in the Valley. The franchise could also be purchased by an ownership group ready to move the team outside of the state.

Lee said he needs to seriously consider all offers, but his preference is to sell to an owner ready to keep the team in the Valley.

"If the Mat-Su community wants to keep the Avalanche, we’re open to talk to anybody," Lee said.

The NAHL allowed seven teams (Traverse City, Wenatchee, St. Louis, Dawson Creek, Alaska, Fresno and Michigan) to declare dormancy for the 2012-13 season. This gives teams permission to skip the season, but still remain an NAHL franchise.

While that could give a new owner extra time to prepare for the 2013-14 season, dormant teams lose all of the players on the roster. Lee said he doesn’t want to see the current collection of talent split up.

The team has until 48 hours following the final official game of its season to hold on to the rights to the players on the roster. If a transfer of ownership is not approved before that point, eligible players on the roster become NAHL free agents.

The Avs are currently 28-14-3 and sit in second place of the NAHL West Division with 59 points. The team has been off since Jan. 28, but returns to action with a two-game series against the Kenai River Brown Bears Feb. 24-25 at the MTA Events Center in Palmer.

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