From The Daily News of Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007. . . .
The Kamloops Blazers have new owners.
The WHL’s board of governors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the sale of the franchise to River City Hockey Inc., from the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society.
Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi holds 50 per cent of RCH, with four ex-Blazers players — Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor — each holding 12.5 per cent.
Gaglardi, who will serve as the franchise’s governor, attended the board meeting in Calgary, where he presented RCH’s business plan and then answered questions.
“Everything went fine. It was all good,” Gaglardi said before leaving for Hong Kong. Gaglardi, 39, is the CEO of Vancouver-based Northland Properties which owns, among other things, Sandman Hotels, Inns and Suites. He will spend the next week in China on hotel business. “I couldn’t have been treated better.”
WHL commissioner Ron Robison said everything in the entire process has gone smoothly.
“We have a pretty comprehensive process we go through in reviewing the application and all those conditions were met,” Robison said. “The only thing that is required now is that the deal is subject to closing at the end of the month.”
The closing date actually is Monday, but that schedule is a bit tight so the date will be moved.
“It’s probably sometime between now and the end of the month,” Robison said. “That’s when funds are transferred and the balance of the documents are signed off.”
Society president Murray Owen, who until now also was the franchise’s governor, and former society director Bob Smillie, who has been overseeing the transition, attended the meeting.
“It went very well,” Owen said. “I think the governors, in general, are excited about the new management of the Blazers and that’s a good thing.
“The governors asked a lot of questions about what happened and how it happened. The governors were concerned a little bit about the process and we explained that to him.”
Robison said it was “important” that Owen and Smillie explained what led up to society members voting 151-43 in favour of the sale.
“They indicated that the 78 per cent vote from the members was critical in showing that everyone now supported the privatization of the franchise,” Robison said.
The commissioner added that the overwhelming vote was important, as was the “credibility of the former players and the business acumen of the Gaglardi family.” Also important, Robison said, was everyone’s “strong ties to Kamloops.”
Bruce Hamilton, the Kelowna Rockets’ governor, president and general manager, said he is looking forward to working with the Blazers’ new ownership.
“They’ll be fine,” Hamilton said. “Tom handled himself really well in the meeting. I don’t have any problems with any of it. I think he is going to be a real asset to our league.”
RCH first attempted to purchase the Blazers for $6 million in the summer of 2006. However, without even considering the offer, the society’s members voted that its assets weren’t for sale.
Over the next year, Gaglardi went about purchasing an untold number of shares and by August had enough support to requisition a meeting and a vote on a new offer said to be worth around $7 million. At that Aug. 23 meeting, without declaring the society’s assets for sale and without considering an offer from Edmonton-based car dealer Mike Priestner, members voted 151-43 to sell the franchise to RCH.
The Portland Winter Hawks were the last WHL franchise to change hands. They were sold to three American businessmen — Jim Goldsmith of New York, John Bryant of Dallas and Jack Donovan of Tucson — for what sources say was US$2.7 million. They also had to take on the five-year contract of general manager Ken Hodge, who had been one of the previous owners.
Owen said the governors at yesterday’s meeting “were interested in how much money it was because in effect it’s like a benchmark for what their franchises are worth.”
And when all is said and done, Owen expects the society to end up with more than $6 million.
“When we first did an analysis it was somewhere between $4.8 million and $5.2 million,” Owen said. “Now we think the net results will be a legacy between $6 million and $6.5 million . . . maybe on the low side — $6.1 million or $6.2 million.”
Gaglardi said the next thing on RCH’s agenda is closing the deal and handing over that money. Then he will focus his attentions on the Blazers, especially the off-ice operation.
Gaglardi has said RCH plans to separate the hockey and business operations, and to hire a full-time president to run the business side.
“We have to get the deal closed . . . and then we’ll get at it,” he said. “We’ll close and then we’ll come in and start taking a hard look at the business.”
Dean Clark is the Blazers’ general manager and head coach and, as such, oversees both the business and hockey sides of the operation. On the business side, he gets help from staff, especially Shane Zulyniak, the assistant general manager/assistant coach, and business manager Angie Mercuri.
Former NHL general manager and head coach Pat Quinn attended his second WHL board of governors’ meeting Wednesday in Calgary.
Quinn, who owns a piece of the Vancouver Giants, was there in support of Tom Gaglardi, who heads up River City Hockey Inc., the group that has purchased the Kamloops Blazers.
Quinn had told Gaglardi that he was going to show up just to make sure the deal for the Blazers went through. He did and it did — the WHL’s governors approved the sale of the franchise to RCH from the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society.
“He’s a friend of mine,” Gaglardi said of Quinn. “It was awfully classy of him to be at this meeting.”
The only other time Quinn is believed to have attended a governors’ meeting was when the Giants’ were granted their expansion franchise. Majority owner Ron Toigo is the Giants’ governor.
— GREGG DRINNAN
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