Saturday, July 24, 2004

Roadrunners make a run for the West

Edmontonians will have some hockey to watch this season even if the Oilers are behind a picket line or find themselves locked out of the Rexall Place. The Oilers have relocated their American Hockey League franchise from Toronto to Edmonton for the 2004-05 season.

The Roadrunners who moved to Toronto’s Ricoh centre last year after living the life of a dormant franchise found themselves orphans when they couldn’t negotiate a new deal with the Ricoh centre in Toronto, the Toronto partner floundered in financial troubles and the Oilers took over the running of the team, but chose not to share in the burden of the Ricoh centre. After searching for a suitable venue in the Toronto area, they gave up the quest and moved the team west.

The Runners will have to reimburse AHL teams for the extra travel required for the trek to Edmonton, but expect that with crowds of around 10,000 a night they’ll have no problems with that financial detail.

While they might have the town to themselves come this September the Oilers figure even if the NHL resumes on time this year the two teams will co-exist nicely. They will play on alternate nights and should they share similar dates the Runners will be the matinee performers. By moving the Roadrunners into Edmonton the Oilers also protect their territory from the newly reformed WHA.

The move to Edmonton may open up the Toronto market for the Baby Leafs who have been making noises about wanting to leave their St. John’s home. Conspiracy buffs have floated the idea that the contract troubles with the Runners were created so as to find a venue for the Baby Buds to play in, maybe that’s the plan but if there’s no NHL this year the folks at MLSE might prefer to run their AHL team out of the Air Canada centre. So don’t expect a leasing arrangement to be made just yet. The vacancy at the Ricoh could also play into the hands of the WHA’s Toros, who have yet to name their home rink. They apparently have held discussions with Skydome but a move to Ricoh might be a wiser move should they be able to swing it.

Regardless the incursion into Toronto territory by the Oilers has come to an end, no doubt much to the relief of the Leafs. When the Oilers and Habs parted ways on their Hamilton farm club last year the Oilers picked up the dormant Roadrunner franchise and stocked it in Toronto. This was a situation that never sat well with the Leafs.

With the re-location, the Oilers are banking on the love of hockey in Northern Alberta to help make the Roadrunners a success on the ice and at the box office. It may be sure bet for a town that put close to 60,000 folks into an outdoor stadium on a brutally cold afternoon. They certainly love their hockey in Edmonton, the Oilers are just making sure that there is enough of it.

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