TORONTO - Elliott Kerr has jumped back into the junior hockey business with both feet.
Kerr, who was part of the original ownership group of Mississauga's first Ontario Hockey League team and owned a minority stake in the Guelph Storm until Thursday morning, took over the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors Thursday, ending months of speculation that the team would be sold and/or moved. Kerr bought the OHL franchise from Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk for an undisclosed price.
The deal is expected to be officially announced Friday.
But Kerr, the owner of a GTA-based sports agency, Landmark Sports Group, confirmed to The Mississauga News that he and partner David Livingston bought the franchise, which has struggled to draw fans after moving from Toronto to the suburbs in 2007, and will keep it in the city, albeit with a different name. The connection to St. Michael's College in Toronto, which dates back to the franchise's inception in 1996, will be dropped.
Earlier in the day, Kerr and Livingston sold their shares in the Storm to the Guelph ownership group, which expanded to include ex-NHLer Scott Walker, who also coaches the team.
"That was done simultaneously with the OHL approval meeting, which was held (Thursday) morning via conference call," Kerr told The Mississauga News. "The league approved not only our transaction, but also the Guelph Storm transaction."
Despite Melnyk, the deep-pocketed Senators owner, running the show -- he bought the St. Michael's Majors in 2001 and eventually moved them to Mississauga when the IceDogs shifted to St. Catharines -- the Mississauga franchise has always struggled to draw fans. Hosting the Memorial Cup in 2011 gave the team a temporary boost in attendance but it again dropped in 2011-12.
"I think the city of Mississauga should be thanking Eugene Melnyk for not only keeping a team here in the first place, but also bringing a Memorial Cup to Mississauga," Kerr told The News. "He's left us some huge building blocks and I can honestly say, without his contributions this task would be even greater. At the same time, to live in the market and understand it will go a long way in building a fan base."
The Majors drew a season-high 4,414 to their Family Day game against the Sudbury Wolves in February but 11 of 34 home dates attracted fewer than 2,000 fans. The team's average attendance was 2,458, well shy of the Hershey Centre's seating capacity of 5,420.
But where others have failed, Kerr believes he will succeed.
"I know the business of the OHL and I know this market really well," Kerr told The News. "With me being a part of the community, being part of minor hockey in the city and knowing the corporate side of things, I'm very confident that all of these pieces will fall in place and help us keep the OHL strong in the city."
Kerr said Landmark's manager of corporate sales, Scott Rogers, will take over the team's business operations while coach/general manager James Boyd will stay running the hockey operations.