Maine Hockey Journal

Maineiacs downplay rumors of move to Summerside

The Lewiston Maineiacs downplayed reports of a proposed deal to relocate the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise from Lewiston to Summerside, Prince Edward Island for next season.

Maine Hockey Journal first reported last night that there was a prospective deal in place to move the team, but Maineiacs’ President and Governor Bill Schurman failed to backup the claim made by Summerside businessman, Tim Banks that the team has a deal in place.

“Reason why this (recent) rumor has started is that people who follow this level of hockey understand that we are having a difficult time paying our bills,” said Schurman. We have a product that people have to buy and it’s been a difficult sell and they smell blood in the water.”

Banks, former director and general manager of the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League said on his Twitter account on Tuesday that a deal was in place to bring the Maineiacs to Summerside with a $1.5 mil (CDN) in guaranteed gate revenue to be furnished by the city.

When contacted by Maine Hockey Journal, Banks expanded by saying that PEI Rocket’s President and Governor Serge Savard Jr. had been advised that a deal with Summerside and the Maineiacs was in place for the start of next season.

On an island with only a population of 140,000 that could have signaled the end of the Rocket, who have been embattled in their own relocation rumors with the latest being linked to the City of Sherbrooke. However, late this afternoon, Savard along with his father Serge Savard Sr. issued a press release indicating that they have no intentions on relocating to another city and were aware of the rumors linking Summerside and the Maineiacs.

“On behalf of the PEI Rocket, we want to make a public statement that the Savard Family has no plan to relocate the PEI Rocket right now,” the press release said. “We are dedicated to staying in Charlottetown.”

“We are aware of the rumors of Lewiston’s intention to move to Summerside. If this request is made official by January 31, then it would have to go to the Board of Governors for approval.”

The Jan. 31 deadline refers to the deadline where teams have to declare their intention for operating the following season or apply for relocation. According the QMJHL neither has happen to date.

In regard to Banks claim that the City of Summerside will put up a guarantee of gate revenue worth $1.5 mil (CDN.), Summerside Chief Administrative Officer Terry Murphy told the Journal Pioneer that was not true.

“We have no contract with anyone to play here in Summerside,” Murphy told the Journal Pioneer. “There’s no deal. Talks are going on all the time. I talk to teams that are in the Quebec league that are in the area and around. I have not finalized any deal with anyone of them to be able to come to Summerside.”

The Journal Pioneer also learned that the Maineiacs had been talking with city officials and to other cities in Atlantic Canada as well.

“They (Maineiacs) called us,” Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart told the Journal Pioneer. “The Maineiacs were talking to other communities in Atlantic Canada who were probably chasing them. But there are no final decisions made. There’s talk about two or three moves within the league and I think because of our facility, when somebody’s thinking of moving, the word is in the hockey world and the Q league, Summerside has the best facility in eastern Canada.”

The Maineiacs have been tormented with rumors of relocation for the last several years dating back to 2008-’09 season when they tried to move to Boisbriand, Quebec, a suburb southwest of Montreal. The deal was eventually scuttled when the Montreal Junior fought to protect their home territory which left the Maineiacs to repair a fractured relationship with the fan base and local businesses of Lewiston.

Over the summer, the Maineiacs brought on local ownership with Paul Spellman and hired Schurman to help revitalize the marketplace.

According to Schurman, this has been the second-best season in the team’s history in terms of ticket sales, but the team continues to lose money, not having made a profit in the eight-year history of the franchise and the rumors are still persistent of the team’s demise.

“These rumors started before I even came here,” Schurman said. “Our focus is, and has always been, on working in what has been our second-best season in franchise history and prepare to start rolling out our playoff ticket packages.”

Schurman is still keeping the lines of communications open as they continue to operate business as usual.

“We have been open with our players, staff and our billets and volunteers that we will not pack up the U-Haul and leave in the middle of the night. I have had conversations with the mayors in both cities and told them that they will be the first to know when, and if anything happens.”

Any potential move to Summerside could be a tough sell not only to Prince Edward Island, but to the Board of Governors, who would have to approve any such relocation.

The two cities are roughly 40 miles apart, which means it falls just outside of the Rocket’s home territory, but Savard questions the objectivity of having two franchises based on PEI.

“It is our very strong opinion that the Prince Edward Island’s population base and corporate market is way too small to be able to support two teams,” Savard said. “We are certain that a second team in PEI could have disastrous effects for the PEI Rocket. There is no evidence to suggest that two teams could be successful on Prince Edward Island.”

“Hopefully, the Commissioner and the League Board of Governors will make their decision based on the economics involved and will not place an existing franchise in jeopardy.”

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