A former official of the Toledo Storm says he wants the ECHL franchise to operate next season and will step forward in an attempt to broker a deal to make that happen.
Pat Pylypuik, who served as the team's general manager from 1995 until January of 2002 when he left to become president and chief operating officer of the ECHL's now-mothballed Cincinnati Cyclones, said he began making telephone calls yesterday morning to prospective local and national investors to gauge their possible interest after the Storm announced the night before that it is seeking approval from the league to suspend play for the 2005-06 season.
Citing a declining season-ticket base which now numbers approximately 750 in its decision - half of what team management says is needed to ensure financial stability - the request will be addressed by the league's board of governors on April 12.
"The worst thing that could happen would be for the franchise to lose a year or two years and have it go dark," said Pylypuik, who now manages Trader Publishing Company's magazine automotive division for northwest Ohio, southeastern Michigan and Indiana. "The damage will take years for it to recover."
Pylypuik said he spoke with the majority owner of the Storm and the 58-year-old Sports Arena, Tim Gladieux, yesterday and hopes to meet with Gladieux on Tuesday when he returns from vacation in Florida.
"I've called several people familiar with the situation to see what kind of interest they would have in trying to work something out," Pylypuik said. "They're definitely open to it. Obviously, they would like more information, which would be my role to bring it to them.
"It would depend on what Tim is looking to do. In talking to people, they believe strongly that the Marina District is eventually going to happen."
When the team announced its request for the suspension, it said that it was negotiating with several parties who had expressed an interest in investing in or leasing the team.
Without dismissing Pylypuik's attempt to broker an arrangement, Gladieux is taking a wait-and-see position.
"The qualified candidates, we've already been in discussion with," Gladieux said yesterday. "Any new calls, I'm not sure they would fit into the qualified category."
Gladieux said he would consider remaining as majority owner if additional minority ownership can be secured.
"It depends on what the magnitude of their investment would be and what their preference would be," Gladieux said. "Our goal is to keep hockey playing in Toledo and I'm wide open to anyone's ideas as to how to structure a deal."
Storm general manager Mike Miller said his office was busy responding to inquiries about the future of the franchise yesterday.
"The phone's been ringing all day with calls from fans and sponsors," Miller said. "Whether any of this comes to fruition is another story. But believe me, there's a lot of people out there concerned there won't be hockey and who are willing to help."
Asked if he thinks there will be a pro hockey team in Toledo next season, Miller said: "Yes. Hockey's been such a part of this community for a long time. Community leaders, fans and investors alike would like to see professional hockey stay in Toledo."
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna said that the league will do everything it can to make sure that's the case.
"The first order of business for the ECHL is to remain in the market long-term," McKenna said. "Having said that, I think everyone would agree in the long term that Toledo needs a new arena. That's up to the community to decide whether that happens."
Despite talk of a new facilty being just that and whether he's involved or not, Pylypuik believes that hockey can succeed short-term in the Sports Arena until a new structure is built.
"I think the league, coupled with Tim, will do whatever it takes to keep hockey in Toledo," Pylypuik said. "I believe the positives, the upside, definitely outweigh the negatives."
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