Groups competing to bring hockey to Mile One tight-lipped as talks continue

Two groups — one involving the ownership of the St. John's Edge basketball club, one involving a former IceCaps executive — are competing to bring an ECHL franchise to the St. John's arena, but neither side is giving anything away right now.

Basketball ownership group's exclusivity deadline passes with no deal announced

Glenn Stanford, former chief operating officer of the St. John's Icecaps, acknowledges his group has an ECHL team lined up for next season but says there's a process to go through before that can happen. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Will Mile One soon add hockey to hoops?

Two groups — one involving the ownership of the St. John's Edge basketball club, one involving a former IceCaps executive — are competing to bring an ECHL franchise to the St. John's arena, but neither side is giving anything away right now.

Case in point: the Edge ownership group had a window of exclusivity to add a hockey team to the Mile One roster. Former IceCaps chief operating officer Glenn Stanford — leading one group for an ECHL franchise — says he believes that time was up Monday, but Rob Sabbagh — co-owner of the Edge and part of the other hockey-chasing group — isn't conceding anything.

We've been working real diligently at trying to facilitate getting a competitive hockey team for St. John's. We really have.- Rob Sabbagh

"I've heard that bantered about, yes. I can't say I agree with it, but I've heard it," said Sabbagh, when asked if Jan. 22 marked the end of his group's exclusivity.

So: how goes the search for a hockey team?

"We've been working real diligently at trying to facilitate getting a competitive hockey team for St. John's. We really have," he said.

Confidential boardroom discussions

Stanford is similarly circumspect when asked about the status of his group's efforts but acknowledges that his group has a team lined up for next season.

"There's a process that you have to go through with the ECHL," he said. "You have to have certain items in place. We've had some good discussions with them over a period of time."

Where would that team come from? Stanford isn't saying.

"I don't want to get into that, because that's confidential to what's going on in the boardroom, but there's a process that we have to do with those guys. We're in the middle of that process and there's certain things that we have to have in place, so we're working towards making sure that everything that they're looking for, we have before we move forward."

Carl English of the St. John's Edge dribbles around a Windsor Express defender earlier this month. Edge co-owner Rob Sabbagh says his group wants to add hockey to the roster of events at Mile One, but adds the main priority is bringing a basketball championship to St. John's this season. (St. John's Edge)

As for whether there'd be an advantage in wooing a team with an organization already operating in Mile One, Sabbagh says there are differences between hockey and basketball, with hockey more logistically challenging in some ways.

"This is speaking from someone who doesn't have experience yet of owning both a hockey and a basketball team, but … just the more personnel, there's probably double personnel, and the equipment, and the travel, and with certain leagues, it's more spread out."

We haven't really thought about sharing the building with another tenant. I'm not saying that adversarially; we just never considered that.- Rob Sabbagh

Sabbagh said his group's focus is on its own efforts, both in bringing hockey back and other entertainment options — and they're not worried about other competing groups. He's reluctant even to use the word "competing," because he says both groups are working for the betterment of the city.

"We haven't really thought about sharing the building with another tenant," he said. "I'm not saying that adversarially; we just never considered that."

Sabbagh says his group has another goal in mind right now: a National Basketball League of Canada title.

"Another priority of ours is making Mile One a premier entertainment facility. We don't only want to bring basketball and hockey, we want to do a lot. Priority over all of that right now, in fairness to our team, is winning the NBL championship."

'Fans have been absolutely fantastic'

The team currently sits second overall in the 10-team league with a record of 14-7, and Sabbagh says management has been happy with attendance so far.

"The fans have been absolutely fantastic," he said. "I think we underestimated how well this would be received."

Stanford called the Edge a success story, one he hopes his group can replicate, and fill up more spots on the Mile One calendar, much emptier since the IceCaps left town.

"It's been absolutely wonderful to watch. Hopefully we can do the same, come in with 36 nights, and 20 with the basketball, and all of a sudden Mile One has 56 nights, and how good would that be for the citizens of St. John's, for the businesses downtown? I think everybody wins."

With files from Here & Now