As has been expected for weeks, major junior hockey in the city of Toronto is on its last legs.
The Ontario Hockey League yesterday officially announced the sale of the Mississauga IceDogs to Eugene Melnyk from Mario Forgione. Melnyk now owns both the St. Michael's Majors and IceDogs and eventually will sell the IceDogs and move the Majors into the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. It's a scenario that was painted in The Toronto Sun on June 23.
"There is no concern from the league's perspective that we won't have a presence in Toronto," OHL commissioner David Branch said. "I think in this day and age the Greater Toronto Area is the buzz and we have teams in Brampton and Mississauga."
Melnyk will own the IceDogs on an interim basis and with league-imposed guidelines. The league will appoint an independent governor for the IceDogs. And among other things, there will be no player movement between the clubs during Melnyk's ownership of both, a rule which applies for a year after the IceDogs have been sold and moved.
Branch stressed there is no deadline for Melnyk to sell the IceDogs, but it's clear the league wouldn't mind if the sale came sooner than later.
Both clubs will play in their respective rinks in 2006-07. The price Melnyk paid has been reported in the range of $6 million to $9 million.
"The prospect of continuing junior hockey in a vibrant and hockey-rich city like Mississauga is very exciting," Melnyk said in a statement. "I remain committed to continuing the great legacy of the St. Michael's Majors."
The chances are good the IceDogs will wind up one day in either the Niagara Peninsula or upstate New York. A return by the league to North Bay is seen as a long shot at best.
The Majors were re-established in the OHL in 1997-98, but never fulfilled a promise to make a full-time move out of the antiquated St. Michael's Arena at Bathurst and St. Clair.
At one time the Majors played some home games at Maple Leaf Gardens, but rarely did more than 1,000 fans attend. It was not surprising, given the demise of the old Toronto Marlies in 1989. Melnyk tried numerous times to land a new rink but was not successful.
Michael Futa, now the general manager of the Owen Sound Attack, was the Majors' assistant coach back in it first season and eventually became the Majors' head coach. Futa wasn't bothered with the idea the Majors soon will vacate Toronto.
"The need for a suitable building far outweighs the nostalgia aspect," Futa said. "Hopefully this will benefit the other teams in the GTA."