Ebright ices Skipjacks, signs 3-year lease for AHL team in Maine

March 27, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Five weeks after announcing plans to return the club to Baltimore next season, Tom Ebright wrote the Skipjacks' ticket out of town yesterday.

Ebright signed a three-year lease to move his American Hockey League club to Portland, Maine, then appeared at Cumberland County (Maine) Civic Center in a news conference he called. He arrived three days early, it turns out.

The lease won't become binding until Monday, when the board of trustees for the Civic Center votes its approval. John Swann, chairman of the sports committee that negotiated the lease, said the committee will recommend approval.

Beyond that, the AHL governors also must approve the relocation at their May 10 meeting. Their approval also is considered a formality.

Ebright signed off on Baltimore's second stint in the AHL. The first lasted from the 1962-63 season through the 1975-76 season, a 14-year run as the Clippers. This one lasted 11 years, starting with the 1982-83 season, as the Skipjacks.

If there is professional hockey in Baltimore next season, it appears that it will be in the East Coast Hockey League. Ebright is negotiating to acquire an ECHL team.

The Skipjacks, on a seven-game road trip, play tonight in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They will play their final two regular-season home games on April 9, against Utica, and April 11, against Rochester.

Plagued by what Ebright characterized as rising costs in the AHL and insufficient crowds at the Baltimore Arena, the owner opted for Portland, which lost an AHL team a year ago to Providence, R.I.

At yesterday's news conference, Ebright announced a drive for season tickets and advertising sponsorship. He is seeking pledges for 2,000 season tickets and $180,000 in advertising and vTC sponsorship packages by May 1. The transfer of the franchise is not contingent on reaching those numbers, he said.

"We're too far down the road to back out," Ebright said. "But we desperately need community support. The team will not survive if it doesn't have enough broad-based support. I believe that is in place here."

Ebright said he still is negotiating with the Washington Capitals for anNHL affiliation for his team, which will be called the Portland Pirates. Ebright broke off a tentative agreement to extend the Capitals-Skipjacks affiliation through next season, and Washington general manager David Poile said he has sifted through his options.

Poile said he has submitted a proposal to Ebright to renew the affiliation in Portland. The proposal is patterned after a deal negotiated recently between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Hershey Bears. That deal calls for the Flyers to supply coaches and 15 players to the Bears, who then will sign some of their own players.

"The Hershey concept allows you to have control [of the developmental team]," Poile said, "and it allows the local ownership to have some identifiable players in the community. It might be the wave of the future in the NHL."

Ebright said: "I think Washington has the inside track to be our affiliate."

Ebright also said he expects Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz and assistant Paul Gardner to join him in Portland. His other options would be to negotiate a new affiliation or play a season as an

independent team.

In attendance at the news conference was W. Godfrey Wood, who negotiated the lease for Ebright and will become president of the AHL club.

Frank Bathe, a former Maine Mariner and Philadelphia Flyer, was named special assistant to the president. He will be responsible for the day-to-day operations.

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