Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Brampton Battalion have not ‘indicated an interest’ in staying put; North Bay rumours raise questions

Either the Brampton Battalion really are exploring moving to North Bay — for reals — or this is the greatest use of the relocation noise machine since Reggie Dunlop had a Florida retirement community interested in purchasing the Charlestown Chiefs.

On one blue-sky level, the rumour has the same vibe as the Atlanta Thrashers being repatriated as the Winnipeg Jets in 2011. The Ontario Hockey League's ill-conceived decision to put three expansion franchises in the Greater Toronto Area in the late 1990s was is pretty much Gary Bettman's failed Southern Strategy on a smaller scale, putting a product in front of people who weren't much interested it while compounding it by splitting a wafer-thin market three ways. One of those teams has moved out of the GTA, one been moved and subsequently renamed the Mississauga Steelheads and now the Battalion are in the final year of their arena lease and playing what could be a lame-duck season.

It probably will be a couple months before it's really clear what is going to happen with the Battalion, who are owned by Trivial Pursuit co-creator Scott Abbott, with North Bay native Mike Griffin as team president. It does seem as if negotiations to re-up in Brampton are at a standstill, which only fuels speculation.

From Robin Inscoe:

... it seems that a decision on where the team will play next season may be coming to a head.

"I won't put a timeline on it," said Battalion President Mike Griffin on Thursday afternoon. "But I think it will be sooner rather than later."

... One city the Troops apparently aren't speaking with is Brampton and the Real Star Group, owners of the [Brampton] Powerade Centre.

"The current agreement lapsed on August 15 and there have been no further discussions," admitted Real Star Vice-president Brian Soye. "As far as we know their lease option has lapsed and they will be moving out in August of 2013."

According to Soye, the Powerade Centre is currently reaching out to other potential tenants in an effort to fill the void.

"They haven't indicated an interest in renewing," continued Soye. "They initially indicated that they weren't happy with the advertising and food and beverage arrangement but gave us nothing we could respond to." (Brampton Guardian)

Now, about North Bay, whose Centennials were sold and moved to Saginaw, Mich., in 2002. The emotional pull of a city getting its team back is undeniable. At the same time, it's a city of 64,000 (only 40 per cent the size of Sudbury) that is not showing the population growth that would make building a new arena to replace the Memorial Gardens, which requires extensive renovations to accommodate major junior hockey again. The one who stands to lose the most from an OHL team moving in, Tim Clayden, who runs the North Bay Trappers Junior A team, has been trying to portray wooing major junior as a poor business decision for the city, not that spending taxpayers' money on an arena that's a good bet to operate a loss has ever stopped mayors in city councillors in other Ontario cities.

"North Bay is a great hockey town full of rich hockey heritage and loyal junior hockey fans that deserve the best junior hockey available today. Unfortunately, hockey is a business today and it boils down to money, the OHL back in North Bay would be great for the City of North Bay and Northern Ontario, however, does the City really want to spend $14 million dollars to renovate Memorial Gardens is the question, and if they are gonna spend $14-plus million on renovations, why not have Brampton at least match the same $14 million dollars that the tax payers are being asked to contribute and build an entirely new state of the art facility that North Bay and all of Northern Ontario and the next generation of junior hockey sports fans can enjoy for many years to come.

"Frankly, the Battalion ownership have tons of money and should put their own monies into renovating Memorial Gardens and not the taxpayers," Clayden continued.

"The Brampton Battalion are asking to move to North Bay, not vice versa, the Battalion should step up and put their own monies into Memorial Gardens if it's gonna be their new home, makes sense as this I would hope is a life long commitment being made by the OHL team." (Bay Today)

North Bay has also somewhat turned the page on the status it lost when the Centennials moved. The Nipissing Lakers of the Ontario University Athletics men's hockey league are well-supported and are covered like a junior team, becoming the latest instance of a CIS team which can thrive in a city that doesn't offer top-tier junior play (see Fredericton, N.B., or Thunder Bay). A lot of effort also went into arranging a way for the Trappers and Nipissing U to share a rink. The university is also adding women's hockey next fall, creating a long-overdue opportunity for female players from northern Ontario to play competitively and perhaps increase the chance of settling in the community.

Clayden, who obviously has a vested interest, argued all that work will go for naught.

"I know the current mayor of North Bay played a big part in bringing (the Lakers) into town and by all counts, they have had a successful run in the first three years. My thought is why would people go through the trouble of bringing a university team into the city and revamp the existing junior hockey program only to bump them out for an OHL team that wants to relocate?" (NorthBayNipissing.com)

(Ironically, this weekend the Nipissing Lakers are rarin' up to face the Ryerson Rams at the rink we're calling Maple Leaf Gardens. Revisionist history, but there could have been a great OHL barn at the corner of Carlton and Church streets. Imagine seeing a game and knocking out the grocery list in one trip.)

Getting back to the Battalion, all of this could amount to sabre-rattling. If North Bay blanches at the high cost of higher-level hockey, then what else can the Battalion do but stay put?

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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