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 Will Birmingham join the Atlantic Coast Hockey League?

 
  

August 2002

  
         
    Atlantic Coast Hockey League President William Coffey states that Birmingham will likely receive a franchise in the new league. "We may wait until next year or we may do it this year. I think there is a real strong probability Birmingham will have a team in the league by next year," Coffey said. The ACHL was formed earlier this year and opened their league office in June. Orlando (FL), Jacksonville (FL), Tallahassee (FL), St. Petersburg (FL), Lakeland (FL), Knoxville (TN) and Fayetteville (NC) have already been granted teams. "With seven cities represented, the Atlantic Coast Hockey League's inaugural 2002-03 season will start with the most start-up teams of any minor professional hockey league in history," said Coffey.

The league is currently negotiating with Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex officials for lease costs and reserving game dates for this year.

The franchise ownership has yet to be determined, but an owner would need to be in place quickly for the team to take the ice in the ACHL's inaugural season this year. Play begins in late October and all teams will play a sixty-game regular season schedule.

  
         
  

September 2002

  
         
    Coffey says the city will not field a team for the ACHL's inaugural season. He cited the lack of open dates for a full hockey season at the Convention Complex as the main reason. He also went on to say that he feels the ACHL will have a team in Birmingham next year.

Not everyone feels the city should get involved with the new league, however. Former Birmingham Bulls head coach Mike Zruna said, "It's not savvy to get involved in a league that hasn't even been around for a year." Zruna would like to see the East Coast Hockey League return to the city, but the ECHL has not contacted the BJCC about bringing a team back to Birmingham.

  
         
  

May 2003

  
         
    ACHL commissioner Jim Riggs announces the league is in final negotiations for a lease of the BJCC arena for the 2003-04 season. "The sooner we get it finalized the better. The holdup isn't with the building but getting the ownership group in place. We'd love to get it finalized by June 15 and start talking with fans and sponsors," Riggs said.

Frank Poe, BJCC executive director, confirmed the he is talking with the ACHL. However, Poe said nothing is concrete and that the ACHL, which currently has only three teams, must show that it has a sufficient number of cities for the deal to become reality.

The ACHL's plans came as a surprise to World Hockey Association 2 officials. "That's news to me," said Taylor Hall, president of the WHA2 team that will play in Pelham. "I met with the BJCC today and no one mentioned they were putting a team there. But we're not really worried about what the ACHL is doing as far as their league and teams. We're forging ahead."

The owners of Birmingham's WHA2 team formally announce the team's entry to the league and a signed lease for the Pelham Civic Complex.

  
         
  

June 2003

  
         
    A final lease agreement for the BJCC arena has been sent to ACHL's president William Coffey, which should insure Birmingham a team in the league's second season. Coffey indicates they will be adding two other teams shortly, which will bring the ACHL up to a six-team league. Huntsville (AL) and Tupelo (MS) are still in final negotiations. Birmingham joins Cape Fear (NC), Winston-Salem (NC) and Knoxville (TN) as the league's fourth team.

A name-the-team contest will be held soon, Coffey said.

Coffey has always been sold on Birmingham joining the league. "I just like Birmingham. I always have. I like the building. I like the people. I planned to have a team in Birmingham last fall, but they didn't have enough dates available for us to play. I didn't want to come in there and have to put together a team in August and not have enough dates and damage the market," Coffey said. The ACHL will play a sixty-game schedule that begins in October.

The team will be league-owned until Coffey can secure local owners for the team.

  
         
    Ron Hansis, the ACHL's vice president of hockey operations, said that local team owner Jeff Brubaker would be in town today to finalize negotiations with the city. "The lease is pretty much finalized. It's just a matter of dotting the I's and crossing the T's," Hansis said.

Birmingham would join the league as the sixth franchise; Huntsville (AL) recently committed to play in the league.

Poe said he has provided the league with a lease contract to review, but the ACHL has yet to sign. He added that league officials have told him twice before they'd be in town to sign the lease, but have twice canceled scheduled meetings. "I'm somewhat disappointed they haven't followed through on a couple of meetings. I understand they have had other legit reasons why they've been called away. I assume they'll be here (today) and something productive will come of it. But we're not going to hold out forever. We want to come to a conclusion or move on. We have other (events) we have to finish up. We're not going to set a deadline, but in an informal way, we need to get it done in the next few days. If they don't show up (today), and they send signals they want (the process) to be extended, we would not be real inclined to do so," Poe said.

According to Hansis, Brubaker will also be seeking local investors while in town, which the league considers crucial to a franchise's success. "They're coming in to sign the lease, set up shop, meet with local folks and get going," "We've been working with (local officials) for a couple months and gotten advice. They've seen hockey come and go in this town, so we want to involve the local folk for obvious reasons," Hansis said.

When asked if Birmingham will be in the ACHL for the upcoming season, Hansis answered, "No question. That's absolute. We're ready to roll and Jeff is ready to roll. We just have a few things to straighten out."

  
         
    Birmingham's chance at fielding a team for the 2003-04 season continues to dim as the ACHL exceeds Poe's June 23rd deadline to identify an owner and produce financial proof of viability. "There's no proof of ownership. Right now, we're nowhere (with the ACHL)," Poe said.

Poe has told the ACHL that they have run out of time to secure premium playing dates. "We've told them our calendar for the fall is filling up and we can't hold back on any good dates. The reality is that this is July and the season starts in October. Add that to this market's track record (for professional hockey) and it would be a tough, uphill climb to succeed here," Poe said.

  
         
  

July 2003

  
         
    Coffey claims the chance for a team to play this season in Birmingham is still alive. "Hopefully, we'll have a group together in a short period of time," Coffey said. Coffey said he had an ownership group in place before the BJCC's July 23rd deadline. That group, headed by general partner Jeff Brubaker, fell through and "blindsided" the league, Coffey said.

Brubaker, however, said he had trouble getting a group together in time. "I had made it clear to the ACHL that I wasn't interested in doing this project by myself. I had met with several potential investors, and there didn't seem to be a whole lot of interest," Brubaker said.

Coffey says the league is currently in negotiations with other potential owners and hopes to have a group together by the end of next week or by the time league meetings begin next weekend in Knoxville. "It's a lot of work, but if you get the right people together, you can do it," Coffey said.

With the ownership situation delaying plans, Coffey says he understands the BJCC can't hold out much longer on prime playing dates. "We can't ask them to hold the dates open for an inordinate amount of time," Coffey said.

If the ACHL can't get the remaining teams organized, there could be a major shift for the four teams that have already organized. One option would be for them to join the startup WHA2. However, Coffey has said that the two leagues merging is not even a remote possibility.

  
         
    A group led by WHA2 franchise owner David Waronker has entered discussions with the BJCC for placing a WHA team there for the 2004-05 season. These discussions end the ACHL's chance at playing in the BJCC arena this season.

"There's not anything right for Birmingham in 2003-04, and there's not anything going on with the ACHL. There's been no discussions and we're not holding dates. For all intents and purposes, the ACHL won't happen for us in 2003-04. We couldn't continue to be waiting in the wings for something to happen with time running out. From our standpoint, their time frame was exhausted a couple weeks ago," Poe said.

  
         
  

August 2003

  
         
    The future of the ACHL as a league is over as the four teams prepared to play this season withdraw to form a new league, the South East Hockey League. John Cherney, owner of the Huntsville Channel Cats, was unhappy with the way the ACHL had progressed during the off-season and decided to form the new league. The Channel Cats will be joined by former ACHL teams from Fayetteville (NC), Tupelo (MS) and Knoxville (TN).

Cherney also claims that Birmingham will have a team in the SEHL and will play in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.

  
         
 
 

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Last Update: October 08, 2006