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Only 4 IHL teams remain ... for now

The Flint Generals and Port Huron Icehawks have joined the ranks of ex-IHL teams who won't be making the jump to the Central Hockey League next season.

After several weeks of negotiations, which included finding new ownership for the Generals, Perani Arena has chosen to give an exclusive lease agreement to a new North America Hockey League junior team next season. So the Generals, who lost in the Turner Cup Finals to Fort Wayne, are no more.

Meanwhile, the Port Huron Icehawks have ceased operations, too.

"The reality is, we live in a challenged economy in our community and the entertainment dollars were not there to sustain a professional hockey team long term," Icehawks vice president Dave Goetze said in a press release.

The IHL had been counting on at least one of those teams moving with it, as it begins play under the CHL moniker next season, and Icehawks owners Larry and Frank Kinney had been in discussions about moving their resources to the Generals, until talks fell through with the arena.

The IHL maintains Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Dayton and Quad City and still hopes to add an expansion franchise in Evansville in the coming days.

"We're moving forward with four right now. We're supposed to have a answer with Evansville this week, which would put as at five," IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall said. "I think Flint made a mistake. We did everything possible to make it happen. They played games with us. Once they see junior hockey won't draw, they will be sorry."

Details of the conjoining of the IHL and CHL haven't yet been finalized. Things such as divisional alignment, salary cap, roster size, scheduling length and an agreement with the Professional Hockey Players' Association are still being discussed.

Asked if the IHL could still go ahead with its plan to maintain some independence under the CHL umbrella, even with only four teams, Hextall said the contingency had been planned for, even if it wasn't expected to come to fruition. The CHL has 13 teams, not including those from the IHL.

In the last two years, the IHL has lost flagship franchises in Kalamazoo, which went to the ECHL, and Muskegon, which went to the junior-level United States Hockey League. With no more Michigan-based teams, the Komets have no traditional rivals, and only Dayton within a three-hour radius.

Komets president Michael Franke, a key figure in the CHL-IHL union, couldn't be reached for comment.

What do I personally think of this? What an absolute mess. Simple as that.

It's a good thing the IHL now has the CHL with it. But with only four teams, even five, I do not see how or why the IHL is trying so desperately to maintain its independence. Doing so means keeping the record book (and I don't consider this the real IHL record book), having to maintain an IHL staff (which is redundant) and acting as a safeguard in case the union with the CHL is a rocky one (which I suppose it the only legitimate reason to be an "affiliate" instead of being absorbed).

The IHL continues to give me the impression Evansville will be in. But if you were the potential owners in Evansville, and you were looking at this whole mess, would you jump on board now to get first dibs on the new arena? Or, would you wait it out, see what the CHL/IHL looks like and evaluate your options in a year?

Yep, thought so.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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