FORT WAYNE – When the IHL begins play under the Central Hockey Leagues moniker next season, it will do so without the Flint Generals or Port Huron Icehawks.
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. And as expected, 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 news release.
The IHL had been counting on at least one of those teams moving with it next season, and Icehawks owners Larry and Frank Kinney had been poised to take over running the Generals next week.
The IHL maintains Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Dayton and Quad City and hopes to add an expansion franchise in Evansville this week.
I think Flint made a mistake, IHL Commissioner Dennis Hextall said. We did everything possible to make it happen. They played games with us. Once they see junior hockey wont draw, they will be sorry.
Komets President Michael Franke, a key figure in the IHL-CHL partnership, expressed both anger and dismay.
This is a bad deal. The bottom line is we did everything we could to keep professional hockey in Flint, and we were stonewalled by this (arena management) group. I dont understand it. In all my years of dealing with buildings, Ive never seen its like, Franke said. The people I feel worst for are the fans in Flint. As far as we were concerned, things were very positive moving forward for the future of professional hockey in Flint. The Kinneys would have turned around pro hockey there for years to come, Im sure of it.
The IHL and CHL still need to finalize matters such as divisional alignment, salary cap, roster size, scheduling and an agreement with the Professional Hockey Players Association.
Asked whether the IHL could still maintain its structure within the CHL, despite having only four teams, Hextall and Franke said the contingency had been planned for, unexpected or not. The IHL-CHL collective includes 17 teams.
It has no material effect on the alliance, Franke said.
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, leaving the Komets with no traditional rivals and only Dayton within a three-hour radius.