Door Remains Open For OHL Team In Hamilton

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Door remains open for OHL team in Hamilton

The commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League is playing down reports that a major junior team — sources say the Erie Otters — will be calling Hamilton home in time for next season. He says he’s been hearing about the possible move through the media and that no official application to transfer the team to this city or anywhere else has been filed. With the deadline for that being Dec. 31, that opportunity is now long past.

However, Branch seemed to leave the door open a crack. Wide enough for a deal to squeeze through under the right circumstances. The Dec. 31 rule could be adjusted, he says, if a compelling case could be made.

Building that compelling case is almost certainly part of the reason that, on Tuesday, for the second time this week, city manager Chris Murray delayed putting a staff report about the possibility of the OHL coming here on council’s agenda. This at the request of the mystery owner. The reason offered was to allow time for a number of issues to be addressed before the plan was discussed at council and then put to a vote.

The report suggests an OHL team would move here for the start of the 2012-13 season, playing out of the Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena. It would stay there for as long as five years, moving to Copps Coliseum if the Bulldogs left town.

The Hamilton Red Wings, which currently play out of Mountain Arena, would be moved to Ancaster’s Morgan Firestone Arena. Then, to compensate for the ice time they use that would be lost to minor hockey, $350,000-$400,000 would be spent fixing up Spring Valley Arena, also in Ancaster.

Start with that league approval. The owner will certainly want to have the league officially on board. It would be too risky not to have assurances the move could happen. He will also want the OHL to have signed off on Mountain Arena as a suitable temporary home.

At least as tricky, the owners would have territorial issues to resolve. OHL franchises have a protected territory of 80 kilometres from their arena. While Bill Burke, the owner of the Niagara Ice Dogs, says he’d welcome a new rival, any team in Hamilton would still need approval from the Guelph Storm, Mississauga Majors, Brampton Battalion and Kitchener Rangers.

And then there’s the situation in Erie.

That city is in the process of doing a $42-million upgrade to the Tullio Arena where the Otters play. On Wednesday, the current owners and the arena manager are scheduled to meet to discuss a lease extension. With that kind of cash being poured into the building, the city will surely be motivated to do everything it could to keep the team in town.

Negotiations there would almost certainly have to have broken off before council would buy in here.

Earlier this week, Branch said he expects the Otters to be playing in Erie and no OHL hockey to be played in Hamilton this fall. He may be right.

Words like "expect", or "intend" are catch phrases in these situations. Its certain that the Otters have always "intended" to remain in Erie. Just as certain as the OHL has "expected" the Otters to remain in Erie.

Just as telling are suggestions that "compelling" cases could alter deadlines that have already passed.

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