Friday, August 15, 2008

Winter Hawks sold . . . almost!

The Portland Winter Hawks have been sold, subject to WHL approval.
Two sources told me Friday that the deal is done and all that is needed is approval from the WHL board of governors.
One source told me that Bill Gallacher, a Calgary-based businessman who is a senior partner in the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers, heads up a group that has purchased the WHL franchise from Jim Goldsmith, Jack Donovan and John Bryant.
Another source said he understands “a sale of the club is imminent, subject to approval from the league, of course.”
Negotiations ran into a bit of a speed bump this week when the Canadian dollar took a small hit on the money markets. That problem has been cleared up and a sale price of about C$7.5 million has been agreed upon. That price was $7.1 million before a currency adjustment was made this week.
That would be a record price for a WHL franchise. The Kamloops Blazers were sold last summer for a price that ended up being around C$6.1 million. The last expansion franchise, which was sold to the NHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings two years ago, carried a C$4 million price tag.
“The money is changing hands Wednesday,” the source said.
Goldsmith, Donovan and Bryant bought the Winter Hawks two years ago from a group headed by Ken Hodge, the team’s long-time head coach and/or general manager. The Winter Hawks have had the WHL’s poorest record over the last two seasons.
“Gallacher is legitimately a billionaire – that’s with a B,” one of the sources said. “He’ll be the wealthiest guy in the league. He’s a very sharp guy.”
Asked where Gallacher made his money, the source said: “Oil . . . oil sands operation . . . conventional oil and oil sands.”
According to one bio available on the Internet, Gallacher is the “sole partner at Avenir (Capital Corporation)” and the president and CEO of Avenir Diversified Income Trust. “He is an entrepreneur in the energy industry with the start-up of a number of junior energy companies in Calgary including Winfield Energy Ltd., Peak Energy Services Ltd., Highland Energy Ltd., Maxim Power Group, Atlas Energy Ltd., Avenir Diversified Income Trust, Peregrine Energy Ltd. and Mahalo Energy Ltd. Mr. Gallacher has been instrumental in structuring and developing these companies and brings experience in the oil and gas financial markets and corporate structuring.”
The last two groups to have owned the Winter Hawks have complained about their lease. Goldsmith, Donovan and Bryant were especially vociferous about what they felt was an onerous lease. One of the sources said that won’t be a problem with Gallacher.
“There will be a new lease within 10 days,” the source said, adding that “they want to play all their games in the Rose Garden.”
The Winter Hawks are scheduled to play a handful of games in the Rose Garden this season, with the rest in Memorial Coliseum. After this season, it’s expected the Winter Hawks will move all of their games into the Rose Garden.
With someone like Gallacher – who obviously has money and something of a hockey background – purchasing the franchise, one would think the WHL will approve this in a hurry. Especially, with the way things have fallen apart in Portland over the last two years. According to one source, the Winter Hawks’ debts are well into seven figures.
Now it would seem to be a matter of the WHL doing its due diligence, something one would expect to be done in a big, big hurry, what with the state of the Portland franchise and the lateness of the year.
Last summer, the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society voted on Aug. 23 to sell its franchise to Tom Gaglardi, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi and Darryl Sydor. The WHL’s board of governors approved the sale on Oct. 10 and the deal closed on Oct. 23.
Gallacher wants to take over as soon as possible – like yesterday – especially with the Winter Hawks opening training camp on Aug. 23.
“I would think the league would like to move the present ownership out of there,” one source suggested, “so you wouldn’t think they will turn the sale down. But you never know . . . it’s the WHL.”
It’s believed that everyone on the hockey-side of the operation will be replaced.
Mike Johnston, a former NHL assistant coach under head coach Marc Crawford with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, will be the Winter Hawks’ general manager and head coach.
Former NHLer Travis Green, who played in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers and Spokane Chiefs, will be the assistant general manager/assistant coach.
Ken Stickney, the chief executive officer of Mandalay Sports Entertainment, will be the Winter Hawks’ president and run the business side. “He will concentrate on turning Portland around from a ticket-selling perspective,” one of the sources said.
It’s also interesting to note that Gallacher’s son Benjamin, a defenceman who turns 16 on Sept. 11, was selected by the Medicine Hat Tigers with the 91st pick of the 2007 WHL bantam draft. Ironically, that selection was made with a pick acquired from the Winter Hawks.

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