Habs exec says 'who knows' when asked how long AHL affiliate will be in St. John's
Is it possible the American Hockey League affiliate for the Montreal Canadiens could be in St. John's for more than two seasons?
"Who knows," says an executive with the renowned NHL franchise.
In an interview Thursday with the St. John's Morning Show, Kevin Gilmore said it could be longer, depending on the speed of construction of a new 10,000-seat hockey arena in Laval, a city north of Montreal.
"The building in Laval is just starting construction. We don't know what the timing will look like over the next two to three years," said Gilmore, executive vice-president and chief operating officer with the Canadiens.
He said the club also has some homework to do before determining whether Laval is a suitable marketplace for the AHL team.
Expecting tremendous fan support
Gilmore seemed to have no doubt, however, about whether the team will be a success in St. John's.
"We've got a two-year agreement to bring our team there. What's really attractive to us is both the City of St. John's, which we feel is a great environment for young players that are just entering their pro career and also depth players that come up and down, we feel it's a great city. We also feel the fan support is tremendous."
After weeks of rumours, a major pro hockey shake-up for St. John's was revealed earlier this month.
The Canadiens announced it will move its AHL franchise from Hamilton to St. John's for at least two seasons, beginning next fall, while the Winnipeg Jets' franchise, which has played in St. John's for the past four seasons, will move to Winnipeg.
St. John's will have a new team and new players, but the IceCaps name will remain.
We have no doubt that in St. John's there is a strong Habs fan base.- Kevin Gilmore
It's also widely expected that the team's strong fan base, which has averaged over 6,000 per home game, will increase even more.
"We have no doubt that in St. John's there is a strong Habs fan base," said Gilmore.
So is it possible that St. John's may host an NHL exhibition game featuring the parent club?
That won't happen next season because the scheduling is done a year in advance, but Gilmore wouldn't rule it out for 2016-17.
With files from Anthony Germain