Cleat Geeks

Relocation: The Ugly Monster


In sports there is a sneaky little monster. It hides behind every goal post, every upright and behind every batter’s box. It can strike without notice or warning and leaves a cataclysm of hurt and sorrow in its aftermath. This ugly monster is known to many by a name that makes a hardened sports fan shudder. It’s called ‘Relocation’ and it has reared its ugly face once again in amateur hockey.

The American Hockey League is no stranger to relocation. In any farm league, agreements with major league clubs come with a certain amount of uncertainty and instability. On Thursday, March 12, an unprecedented sixth and seventh AHL franchise -the St. John’s Ice Caps and Hamilton Bulldogs announced that when the puck drops on the 2015-16 season, they will do so from a new city.

The void left by the ugly little relocation monster did not stop there. The Hamilton Bulldogs departure meant there was room for another team to move in to Canada’s steel city. It didn’t take long for former Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer, who had sold his stake in the Montreal farm team earlier in the day, to buy an Ontario Hockey League team and move them to Hamilton.

At the end of the day, the landscape of hockey in four cities would be dramatically different. The Winnipeg Jets farm team in St. John’s, Canada would be moving to Winnipeg and play in the same arena as their NHL counterpart. The Bulldogs as mentioned before would move to St. John’s and be closer to the Montreal Canadiens.

The greatest damage done on the day by that pesky relocation monster is undoubtedly to the City of Belleville in Canada. For the small Ontario city of 50,000 residents, the Bulls had been the hometown hockey team for the past 35 years. The sale of the team and departure from the city happened in less than 5 hours. And with it, came a war of words that has gained national attention.

City council members and former owner Gord Simmonds have received most of the animosity from Bulls fans.

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For Belleville, the truth of the matter is they play in an arena from another time frame. Built in 1978, the Yardmen, is the only remaining arena in the Canadian Hockey League that still has an international size ice surface. At less than 3,500 hundred seat capacity, the arena has been in need of substantial upgrades to ever even be in the conversation to host a Canadian national junior tournament. Earlier this year it was determined that the ice surface at the Yardmen had holes under the pavement, raising serious safety concerns. It was no secret that Bulls ownership, current and past, had reached out to the city for funding in helping bring the Yardmen into the 21st century. And for 20 years their prayers for an updated or new facility went unanswered.

Currently Belleville has a $91 million plan to revitalize the city, with zero dollars allocated to helping the hockey facility. For this reason and many more the Belleville Bulls were forced to relocate. The team released a statement outlining the reasons for it’s departure.

The mayor of Belleville is garnering a great deal of negative attention after he failed to deliver a remedy to the problem, something he ensured voters he would do during his election campaign.

Mayor Christopher Taso took a few shots of his own toward then Bulls owner Gord Simmonds. Taso claimed in a local newspaper –

“We have been trying to get negotiations under way for months and they’ve never been motivated to meet with us. Gord is motivated by money and it’s really unfortunate. It’s been 35 years.”

Some comments left on the community paper site:

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Although Taso contends he had investors ready to purchase the team when it became available, a sale that included the Yardmen may not have even been approved due to the problems with the facility.

The bottom line is Belleville knew they had to come up with a long term proposal to keep the team in the city. For years that request was denied. No one could buy Belleville city hall and move it to another region, and for the same reason the Bulls as an institution should remain in their native city. It would be ridiculous to expect the Olympics to hold the 100 meter sprint at a high school track venue much like the OHL could no longer consider using the Yardmen.

In total nine amateur teams, two in the OHL and seven in the AHL will find new homes next year. Let what happened in Belleville be a crude reminder that the monster known as relocation is out there, and he could have his eye on your favorite franchise.

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