Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blazers sold

From The Daily News of Friday, Aug. 24, 2007 . . .

The Kamloops Blazers Sports Society’s membership voted 151-43 Thursday night to sell its WHL franchise to River City Hockey Inc. (RCH), a group that is led by Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi and includes ex-Blazers players Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor.
The purchase price will be around $7 million, the highest price — by $3 million — ever paid for a WHL franchise and the second-highest price ever paid for a major junior team. The OHL’s Mississauga IceDogs sold for a reported $9.2 million last summer.
There were 194 of 256 eligible members at the extraordinary general meeting in the Sports Action Lounge at the Interior Savings Centre.
The meeting, which began at 7 o’clock, ended about 9:30.
The society’s nine-man board of directors was forced into calling the meeting when RCH and its supporters, using a clause in the B.C. Society Act, were able to get a requisition asking for a vote on its offer.
The vote, which was done by a show of hands, was resounding, something that meant a lot to the RCH group.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Sydor, before jetting back to Dallas where he is a member of Stars’ centre Mike Modano’s wedding party. “But it’s been a long time coming. The membership has spoken.
“It was resounding and that makes us feel better. It makes us proud.”
Gaglardi added: “Wow! That’s quite something.”
Emotions and passion ran high throughout a lot of the meeting that featured 19 different speakers, including all five members of RCH as well as society board members Dennis Coates and Don Moores.
“The time has come to choose a private model,” said Coates, who is the society’s treasurer. “My personal opinion is . . . that the time has come to privatize the enterprise. Quite frankly . . . I disagree with price being the driving force. I think it’s a combination of price and hockey commitment.”
Moores, who spoke emotionally on July 11, 2006, when members voted that the assets weren’t for sale, favoured selling, too, but not without going to the market place.
“I’m not naive enough to not take a look at all this and see that we have a membership that is fractured. There’s no question that’s what has happened. So in my mind it’s inevitable that this hockey club is going to sell.
“The four guys that are wanting to buy the hockey club . . . this has nothing to do with them. . . . My issue with what is going on is the process. As a society, there is a process that is laid out. And we should be putting this hockey club on the open market only because it’s the right thing to do.”
The members, however, felt otherwise, despite claims of a hostile takeover by one of them.
“We love you guys,” Helen Long said, “but what you are attempting here is a hostile takeover. If we decide to sell, it should be on our terms and open to all offers.”
Other speakers, like former Blazers marketing director Don Larsen and Ross Cundari, felt otherwise.
“I have no problem turning the team over to these guys,” Larsen said.
“This is a dream team for any hockey fan,” Cundari said of the RCH group. “This is an opportunity that we shouldn’t delay any further.”
Andy Clovechok, a former board member who served the society for a long time, also sided with RCH.
“Now is the time to sell,” he told the crowd, “not two years down the line. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
Society president Murray Owen had said Tuesday that the board wouldn’t sign off on the offer that was in front of it at that time. RCH presented an amended offer Wednesday, one that takes liability for the education fund among other things. Owen told the members during the meeting that the board would sign off on the amended offer should the vote go that way.
The society board was to meet late last night and Owen said the WHL has a process that will be followed involving a transfer of ownership.
Should the WHL approve the sale, a process that WHL commissioner Ron Robison has said could take at least 90 days, Gaglardi will be the franchise’s governor, a role presently filled by Owen.
RCH first attempted to purchase the Blazers for $6 million on June 27, 2006. That offer never was presented to the society’s membership. In fact, at a meeting on July 11, 2006, the members voted that the society’s assets weren’t for sale. RCH returned July 18 with an offer of $6.1 million. RCH amended that offer Wednesday and it now is valued at around $7 million.
A group of shareholders purchased 33 per cent of the franchise from the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 1981. The remaining 67 per cent was purchased from the Oilers over the summer of 1984 when the team name of Junior Oilers was changed to Blazers.
Later, a non-profit society was formed and its board of directors has, under the terms of the Society Act, continued to operate the franchise.
That all ended officially last night.
“I’m very happy,” Larsen said. “As soon as the motion was passed, I became a Blazer again. I know it sounds corny but I had shivers.”
The situation in Kamloops has had an impact elsewhere, too.
Ron Toigo, the majority owner of the Vancouver Giants, signed head coach Don Hay, a former Blazers coach and a Kamloops native, to a five-year contract yesterday. Toigo later admitted that the uncertain situation here and not knowing what new ownership might mean in terms of the coaching staff contributed to his decision.
"Everybody would want him," Toigo told The Province. "But I think he likes living here. I think he likes the atmosphere with the team. I think he likes the support from the community."

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