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With ECHL hockey agreement for St. John's all but done, now the real work starts

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While Leafs will have a say in who’s coaching, Jaffray would be a good fit behind the bench; unlikely to be called IceCaps, don’t be surprised if new pro team goes with a traditional St. John’s name

You knew it was eventually going to happen. It was just a matter of when.

Irwin Simon and his group have the keys to the St. John’s Edge, and a Mile One Centre lease agreement in their back pocket. But no hockey team.

Local businessmen Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford have an ECHL expansion hockey team ready to go, but no rink in which to play.

Simon/Sabbagh want a piece of the hockey action – it’s the reason why the New York businessmen ventured to Newfoundland to begin with.

MacDonald/Stanford need a place to play.

As The Telegram’s Brendan McCarthy asked Feb. 4, “Could Mile One adversaries ever team up?”

Well, they did, and a deal was made over the weekend.

Ironically, Simon, who owns the multi-national food company Hain Celestial, was in town, to watch his Edge play the KW Titans.

On the other hand, MacDonald was in Florida and Stanford in Halifax, part of his duties on a selection committee which will determine who will host the 2019 Memorial Cup, Halifax or Moncton.

But the twist in geography didn’t stop the groups from meeting, even if it was over the phone.

MacDonald and Stanford extended the olive branch to Simon and Sabbagh over the last couple of weeks, and while there is now a deal in place, there are many moving pieces which have to be worked out.

Starting with revisiting the current lease agreement Simon has with Mile One.

As it stands, the building is selling and retaining revenues from its 35-plus suites, but it appears as if only a half dozen or eight suites have been moved, judging by occupancy at Edge games.

It’s almost a certainty the newly-cemented basketball/hockey partnership will want some or all revenues from the sale of corporate suites.

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The ECHL team will begin play next season, meaning there’s not a lot of time – just over six months - to put things in place, from assembling a roster, to appointing a coach to naming the team, figuring out a logo and colour scheme, to ordering jerseys.

That’s not to mention negotiating contracts with advertising partners, getting ticketing in place (season and single game tickets) and launching a website.

And we’re just scratching the surface.

Among some of the items on the agenda are:

* First thing’s first, and St. John’s needs to submit its available home dates to the ECHL. The league’s schedule is usually released in the spring, much earlier than the American Hockey League.

That’s because ECHL teams do not share buildings with NBA clubs, as in the case of Cleveland and Milwaukee.

* The Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom the newly-minted St. John’s team will have a partnership, will have a say in some matters, particularly in the naming of a coach and some player personnel.

The coach will have to be a ‘name’, and former St. John’s IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray is being considered.

Jaffray, who played almost three full seasons in the ECHL, is currently playing in Germany. He could return as a player-coach, though it’s believed Toronto wants a full-time coach. Question is does Jaffray want to stop playing.

The Leafs plan to use St. John’s as an entry point into their system, not only for players but for coaches and support staff (therapists, equipment managers).

If Jaffray isn’t available or interested, or the if Leafs aren’t interested, Toronto will look towards some up-and-coming coaches like Dominique Ducharme, who led Canada to the most recent world junior championship, or his Canadian assistant Kris Knoblauch.

Tim Hunter, who was also an assistant on Team Canada’s juniors, worked as an assistant coach with the NHL Leafs for three years. He’s currently coaching junior in Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League.

Former Leafs defenceman Todd Gill has been working as an assistant coach in the AHL the past three years, and Jesse Wallin, who played with Leafs’ GM Brendan Shanahan briefly in Detroit, has been coaching Red Deer in the WHL the past five years. Ex-St. John’s Maple Leafs forward Kevin McClelland also coached in the ECHL.

* There will be room on the roster for a local player or two, though the team will not go overboard on having locals on the roster. Former NHLer Adam Pardy, for example, currently playing pro overseas, could wind up his career in St. John’s in some sort of player-assistant coach role.

* It’s not likely the new team will be called the IceCaps. Former IceCaps CEO Danny Williams owns the name, and while Williams would probably give it up the name – especially to MacDonald, his right-hand man for years, and Stanford, who setup and ran the IceCaps as COO –  it’s believed ownership will look for a fresh start.

Don’t be suprised if the team doesn’t go with a traditional moniker, unlike IceCaps or Fog Devils, for something along the lines of Capitals or Shamrocks. It’s far from guaranteed, but it’s definitely not out of the question, either.

* Ticket prices for the new ECHL team will be cheaper than the AHL, meaning there will be a ticket in the $20 or $25 range.

* The ECHL team will have a travel schedule that was similar to the IceCaps. That’s because a trio of former St. John’s foes in the AHL – Portland, Manchester and Worcester – are now in the ECHL, along with Adirondack, N.Y. and Norfolk, Va., and a team in the Greater Toronto Arena, the Brampton Beast.

* Down the road, the Simon/Sabbagh and Stanford/MacDonald group will operate Mile One Centre. Where that leaves St. John’s Sports and Entertainment, the city-appointed board which currently runs the building, is anyone’s guess.

But improvements are already being talked about for the now 18-year-old building.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email robin.short@thetelegram.com.

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