SUN Hockey Pool

Sold (on) the farm

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Sure, the process took longer -- much longer -- than anticipated.

That's what makes the eventual relocation of the Calgary Flames' farm club to Omaha, Neb., all the more worth celebrating.

Which Flames president Ken King was happy to do.

"It had a gestation period of consequence but it was a great day in Omaha. We're thrilled," King said yesterday.

"Sometimes the best things take time and we have incredible partners here."

After two years in dormancy following its departure from Saint John, the club's minor-league affiliate will finally be brought to life thanks to the fact the Flames finally found a partner in the mid-western city.

Halving ownership of the AHL franchise that will return to the league for the 2005-06 season will be Omaha's Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation. (Ak-Sar-Ben is Nebraska spelled backwards.)

The Knights are a 110-year-old civic and philanthropic organization that last year donated grants and scholarships worth more than $500,000 US.

Proceeds from their ownership will be used for civic endeavours.

"They've invested in it and they intend to use the proceeds of their investment to support good works in the community," King said.

On the surface, putting a minor pro team in Nebraska may seem as bizarre as major pro hockey teams in Phoenix or Miami.

However, Omaha has nearly as rich of a hockey tradition as any city south of the border.

Since the late 1930s, the game has been prominent with the arrival of the minor pro Omaha Knights -- owned by the Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation.

In fact, the Knights were the farm team of the Atlanta Flames in the early 1970s. They were also the development squad for the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg regarding the city's hockey history.

Arguably the game's greatest player -- Gordie Howe -- started his pro career in the Nebraska city and the greatest coach -- Scotty Bowman -- blew his whistle there.

Others whose careers went through Omaha include Terry Sawchuk, Billy Reay, Barclay Plager, Serge Savard, Fred Shero, Eric Vail, Ken Houston and Guy Chouinard.

The city is currently home to the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks -- whose roster includes Brent Kisio, the son of Hitmen GM/head coach Kelly Kisio -- and the United States Hockey League's Lancers, which actually play across the Missouri River in the Nebraska's twin city, Council Bluffs, Iowa.

King said Calgary hockey fans will be thrilled with the partnership.

"It's a great city, I can tell you," he said. "This is a Calgary kind of place and Calgary's an Omaha kind of place. Its values and attitudes are very similar and, frankly, I think that's why we came together."

As for what the team's nickname will be, King said they'd like to go with Knights but added nothing has been finalized.

"That's what we'd like to call them," he said. "What we want to do is honour the great history of professional hockey in the city. And we want to move forward and create our own history."


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