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Will Birmingham join the Central Hockey League?


May 15, 2001
     Western Professional Hockey League logo
   
Central Hockey League commissioner Thomas Berry announces the league's intention to place a hockey team in Birmingham beginning with the 2002-03 season.

With the announced purchase and relocation of the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls yesterday, Birmingham is now without a minor-league hockey team, which opens the door for the CHL to move in.

"We'll secure due diligence of people involved, get the paperwork done. If that holds up this fall, January 1st, we'd open up an office. Given success of some people, we feel that it would be a good arrangement. It's one we'd be happy to be involved in geographically. It helps other (league) partners, and would be an ideal fit," Berry said.

Currently, the 10 team CHL is in the final stages of a merger with the 13 team Western Professional Hockey League. Play between the two sides would be extremely limited, however. Birmingham has previously had two franchises in the 'old' Central Hockey League, the Birmingham Bulls in 1979-80 and 1980-81, and the Birmingham South Stars in 1982-83.

The old CHL folded before the 1984-85 season and was reborn in 1992-93. The eight year old 'new' Central Hockey League is centrally owned and franchises its teams to owners. The league pays the bills and shares profits with the operators. "The league is a sole proprietorship. They have a chance to voice concerns, but don't share in negative parts," Berry said.

According to Berry, two unnamed local investors are interested in operating the team. Both want to forgo the 2001-02 season and focus their efforts on starting up in 2002-03. A year off from hockey would allow the pain the Berkman Group caused to fade which would then allow the city's desire for hockey to rise again. "(Both potential owners) feel the best bet is to go dark for the 2001-02 season. It (allows) the fans who are wishing for a team to let the bad news trailing the departure of the Bulls get better with a fresh start, not fight the demons from prior administration. This gives people nine or 10 months to do the job, rather than nine or 10 weeks."


July 27, 2001
     Monroe Moccasins logo
   
It is reported that Art Clarkson has contacted Todd Newman, majority owner of the CHL's Monroe Moccasins, about moving the team to Birmingham in time for the 2002-03 season. The Moccasins ceased operations on June 15th because the team was unable to the financial requirements to remain in the CHL. Entry fee into the CHL would run just over $1 million.

Clarkson is no stranger to Birmingham. He is the former owner of the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls and the Southern League's Birmingham Barons baseball team. The Barons are still active while the Bulls have recently been sold and will be playing in Atlantic City, NJ.

"I have discussed the idea of bringing the team from Monroe to Birmingham with the current owners, but it's too late to get a team here in 2001. It will have to wait until 2002. Our talks have been good, but it is far from a done deal," Clarkson said. His main concern is the instability of the teams in surrounding states. Franchises in Huntsville, Macon, and Columbus have folded in the past year.

Talks between Clarkson and Newman were initiated by Dave Danis. In the past, Danis has been the director of public relations for both the Bulls and the Moccasins. "I knew Birmingham needed a hockey team and that Art was interested in acquiring a team. I knew that Todd had the Moccasins up for sale, so I connected them for preliminary discussions. I will be proactively helping both parties in any way that I can. I'd love to see hockey back in Birmingham and be a part of it."

Newman said that numerous investors from around the South have contacted him about moving the Moccasins. At this stage of the negotiations, Newman considers Birmingham to be the front-runner.

"I haven't decided if this is a good business move, and if it isn't, then I'm not going to do it. Everything I've done in Birmingham has been successful, and I don't want to bring the team if I don't think it will be successful. The climate of minor league hockey right now is cold, and I don't want to waste all the time and money it will take to bring a team to Birmingham and watch it fail," Clarkson said.

December 24, 2001
    Photograph
  Art Clarkson
   
Clarkson announces that he will not continue to pursue a hockey team for Birmingham. Clarkson cites the current state of minor league hockey and lack of city leadership.

"I've been waiting 17 years for a dome stadium in Birmingham and I can't wait any longer. The opportunities are not here for me," Clarkson said. "The Steeldogs can be a success in this town but minor league hockey is questionable. I'm still not confident in any of the current leagues. I think they are unstable and there are few teams left near Birmingham."

Clarkson is instead planning to build the Tennessee Valley Regional Arena. The arena would be the home of his af2's Tennessee Valley Vipers arena football team as well as being used for other athletic events, concerts, and conventions. He began planning for a new arena in the Huntsville area after the new National Basketball Development League basketball team was given priority over his Vipers in the existing Von Braun Center.

The lack of great sporting events in Birmingham bothers Clarkson. "I can remember in the '80's when Alabama football, the SEC championship, the All-American Bowl, and so many other great sporting events were going on in Birmingham. It crushes me that the Bulls don't exist anymore. I can't wait for the political groups in the city to come around. In my mind you are either going forward or you are going backward. The fact is I don't see Birmingham going forward right now," Clarkson said.

Clarkson thinks there are a handful of younger businessmen in Birmingham who could bring hockey to Birmingham and make it a success. "People in Birmingham have looked to Art Clarkson in the past to help the sports scene in the city. For the time being Birmingham should start looking toward the smart up-and-coming sports minds. There is someone else in this town that can bring hockey back to Birmingham and when the time is right they will do it."

Epilogue
Birmingham never received a team in the 'new' Central Hockey League, which continued to play until folding after the 2013-14 season.

Hockey did return to the area in 2003 when the World Hockey Association 2's Alabama Slammers played in Pelham. Unfortunately, the Slammers were around for only one year.
 
 
 
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Last update: August 17, 2018