A story that originated in a Raleigh, N.C. newspaper created quite a stir in the upstate hockey community on Friday.
According to a report in Friday’s News & Observer, it “appears” that the Albany River Rats organization will be sold and moved to Charlotte next season. The Carolina Hurricanes’ four-year affiliation agreement with Albany expires at the end of the season, and the Hurricanes organization has expressed a desire to move their affiliate closer to Charlotte, the newspaper said.
Albany owner Walter Robb has said previously that he’d be willing to sell the team only if it remained in Albany.
According to Post-Star news partner WNYT-News Channel 13, River Rats President Garen Szablewski said at a hastily arranged afternoon press conference that the report is exaggerated and not yet a done deal. However, season ticket sales for next season have been halted.
“These are things Mr. Robb has been exploring for a couple of years now. He’s looked for some local partners to help keep the team here. He’s looked at a number of different options. This is just one of the options that he considered over time. It’s one that’s he’s talked about, but it’s not a done deal,” Szablewski said, according to WNYT.
The River Rats were instrumental in helping bring Adirondack back into the AHL this season. With their close proximity, the hope was that the rivalry would help both teams sell tickets. As of Friday night, 4,500 tickets were sold for the Phantoms game Saturday at the Civic Center with Albany.
“So far I don’t see any concrete evidence this is done,’’ Phantoms Vice President of Operations Mike Thompson said. “So from the Phantoms perspective we don’t have any comment and won’t have any comment until we see something official. It’s a lot of a report of a report of a report. There’s no source for that initial report.”
In his time working in the AHL, Thompson has seen the effect an intense, regional rivalry can have.
“As a fan, if it is true, I think it’s a bummer,” Thompson said. “I came from Springfield, and the Springfield/Hartford rivalry was a hot ticket. Albany/Adirondack — wait until you see our crowd (Saturday) night, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
A move by the River Rats doesn’t necessarily mean the end of professional hockey in Albany.
Bob Belber, the General Manager of the Times Union Center, the Rats home rink, said that the arena would fight to retain a hockey tenant.
“The TU Center is in communication with Dave Andrews, Commissioner of the AHL, and we will use all efforts to either keep the River Rats in Albany and/or bring another team to Albany with perhaps another NHL affiliation with a different team home-based in the Northeast,” Belber said in a prepared statement.
No one put a timetable on when any decision would be announced.
“It’s called the silly season for a reason,” Thompson said. “The rumors that fly when you get past the holidays every single year ... ninety-five percent of them are obviously nonsense, the other five percent aren’t substantiated until July.”