Stoney Point - December 9, 2014 - There are rumours circulating south western Ontario and various Ontario Hockey League circles that the Plymouth Whalers are looking to move out of Michigan to a small Canadian city. The city of Chatham has been rumoured as a potential landing spot for the Whalers. Cornwall Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy and his Council should move quickly and make a call to explore the possible return of the Cornwall Royals.
Recently, ESPN’s Craig Custance spoke to Peter Karmanos who owns both the OHL Whalers and the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. Karmanos said “It was continually a challenge to break even there (Plymouth), no matter how well we did as a team”. He went on to say that he is targeting a small Canadian city for relocation of the Plymouth Whalers, “Hopefully Chatham.”
There has been a great deal of hockey chatter in Cornwall recently, with the River Kings franchise being taken over by the LNAH. As of today, a long term ownership strategy has not been identified by the league and until one is found, it is hard to imagine the team operating next season.
Without question, the Cornwall Colts have been a model franchise in the CJHL and have been decent tenants for the Cornwall Civic Complex. Despite their success, the building is simply too big for their needs. On a good night, the Colts will announce a paid attendance of over 1,000 and even if all of them were there, the building would still be 80% empty.
I believe, a good solution would see the Colts move west to a home in the new Benson Centre. While the capacity is smaller and the off-ice facilities are not as abundant as the Complex, it would make for an exciting venue to watch their games. The team quite successfully made the Si Miller work for many years. I also understand that there is a clause in the Colt’s agreement that would see them relocate should the OHL return to Cornwall.
One of the biggest challenges of a team moving to Chatham would be the availability of a suitable arena for the team to play in. It is commonly felt that the existing barn, home to the Chatham Maroons, is not up to the OHL standard. It is expected that Chatham would need to spend $50 million to build a new arena and then incur $600,000 in annual operating losses.
Conversely, the Complex was home to the OHL Royals (back to back Memorial Cup Champions) and the AHL Cornwall Aces. Since those days, the City has added rink side seating down to ice level, bringing the seating capacity of the Ed Lumley Arena to greater than 5,000. While there is still an annual operating cost to this building, it is already built and is in need of a major tenant.
It is suspected that the Windsor Spitfires, London Knights and Sarnia Sting would likely want to see the team relocate to Chatham – as it provides a new rivalry and reduces travel costs and distances. For the same reasons, the Ottawa 67’s, Kingston Frontenacs and Belleville Bulls would likely welcome the return of the Royals.
To accommodate the Royals in the east, one of the Eastern Conference teams would have to shift over the West. Based on geography, the most likely candidates would be either the Mississauga Steelheads or the Niagara Ice Dogs.
It has been a long time since the Royals called Cornwall home. In the summer of 1992, Willie Wise packed up the gear and moved the team to the GTA and they became known as the Newmarket Royals. The team would spend two seasons in Newmarket before relocating again. In the summer of 1994, the team moved to Sarnia and are now known as the Sting.
A group of business leaders from Kitchener were close to bring the team back in the late 1990’s. This group was very close to relocating the Owen Sound Platers to Cornwall until the Owen Sound Council stepped in at the last minute and saved their team. That resulted in the team name being changed to the Attack and the team continues to play there to this day.
Since that deal fell apart, Cornwall has been the topic of countless relocation rumours each time a team has been available, with the most recent being the Battalion’s move from Brampton to North Bay. There was even some advanced discussions about a return to the QMJHL for the Royals when the Montreal Rocket franchise was in play.
It is unclear whether Karmanos would like to retain ownership of the team or if he would rather sell. Should it be sold, it would require effort to find a new owner to bring the team to Cornwall. I know that there has been some discussions amongst some retired NHLers about a possible team and it is not certain if the Kitchener group would still have an appetite for ownership. All that to say, what does it hurt for the City of Cornwall to make the call to Karmanos and Plymouth?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.