At the end of last season, the Mile One Centre in St. John’s Newfoundland lost its pro hockey team, the IceCaps. The AHL affiliate of the Montréal Canadiens became the Laval Rocket, and no team moved in to take the spot in a town famous with players as a fun destination on road trips that are often lacking in that very thing.
St. John’s was once home to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate from 2001-2005, while the Montréal Canadiens had the team affiliation from 2011 - 2017. In between, the IceCaps were the Jets’ team, and there was a short-lived QMJHL team in the city as well after the Leafs left.
The result was a fanbase delightfully split between Montréal and Toronto fans for Marlies and IceCaps games, a situation that provided a special air to Marlies games in St. John’s that has been missing from their schedule. Games in St. John’s were always fun, loud and well-attended.
After the IceCaps left, the general opinion has been that the city would not get another AHL team, and so two competing bids have formed to bring hockey back to Mile One. HEOTP has detailed the two bids very well in this post which contains comments from David Salter, the former Director of Communications for the IceCaps.
The Telegram has reported on both the bid by the local Basketball franchise to bring a QMJHL team to the city and the bid by Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford (former COO of the IceCaps) to bring an ECHL team in.
Yesterday, the Telegram reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs are involved in the ECHL plan. The story states that the ECHL has already approved the idea of an expansion team for St. John’s for next season.
The Orlando Solar Bears are currently the ECHL Affiliate of the Maple Leafs, but they have not yet announced a renewal of that affiliation beyond this season. The Solar Bears were recently purchased by the parent company of the Orlando Magic of the NBA, and could continue on in the ECHL if the Leafs choose to go to a new affiliate.
If the Leafs do go with a new expansion franchise in St. John’s, they will be able to tap into an existing base of Maple Leafs fans to support the team.
With a renewed Maple Leafs partnership, we’re told, comes the potential of a Toronto training camp and pre-season games to St. John’s in 2019 and beyond.
The Leafs apparently have expressed an interest in having the AHL’s Toronto Marlies play a pair of regular season games in St. John’s each season.
The kind of money the Maple Leafs are willing to spend on development of players would make them an ideal partner for a new ECHL franchise as well. Most NHL teams do not own their ECHL teams outright, but there has been a trend in the last few years of NHL teams assuming ownership of their AHL affiliates, with many NHL teams that are more budget conscious like the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche choosing to locate their AHL teams closer to home and to buy them outright and therefore control their operations from above. The Maple Leafs owned both the Toronto Marlies and the St. John’s Maple Leafs.
Last summer, the parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers bought the Alaska Aces of the ECHL and moved it to Portland Maine. It begins operations next season, and it certainly looks like the intent is to have the team be the Flyers new affiliate. It’s possible we are about to see the trend for top-down ownership to extend to the ECHL.
The Telegram does not have any details on the exact nature of the partnership with the Maple Leafs.
Nothing is finalized yet, and the competing bid still exists to bring in a junior team, however, the Telegram reports that that bid does not have a team associated with it. At issue now is who has the right to negotiate a lease deal with the stadium itself. More details should be forthcoming on these competing proposals.
Many thanks to the eagle-eyed Twitter user who brought the Telegram story to our attention. We always appreciate our readers helping us out.