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St. John's ECHL bid strikes partnership with Toronto Maple Leafs: sources

The 2004-05 hockey season was the final one for the St. John’s Maple Leafs, and the partnership between the City of St. John’s and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 2004-05 hockey season was the final one for the St. John’s Maple Leafs, and the partnership between the City of St. John’s and the Toronto Maple Leafs. - The Telegram

A proposed ECHL expansion franchise could be coming to St. John's

Robin Short
Robin Short

A group looking to bring the ECHL to St. John’s next year has a partnership in place with the Toronto Maple Leafs, The Telegram has learned.

Well-known local businessman Dean MacDonald and Glenn Stanford, the face behind St. John’s American Hockey League teams for 20 years, most recently as chief operating officer of the St. John’s IceCaps, have approval from the ECHL to bring an expansion team to St. John’s for the 2018-19 season.

If the city does get the team, St. John’s will be the sixth former AHL city to recently join the ECHL, with Manchester, N.H., Portland, Me., Worcester, Mass., Glens Falls, N.Y. and Norfolk, Va.

Other former AHL cities that now have ECHL clubs are Salt Lake City, Utah, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Ind.

There is currently just one Canadian-based ECHL team — the Brampton Beast, which happened to be affiliated with the IceCaps and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens during the time the Canadiens’ farm team was in St. John’s.

St. John’s and Toronto partnered for 14 seasons when the St. John’s Maple Leafs were members of the AHL.

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With a renewed Maple Leafs partnership, we’re told, comes the potential of a Toronto training camp and pre-season games to St. John’s in 2019 and beyond.

The Leafs apparently have expressed an interest in having the AHL’s Toronto Marlies play a pair of regular season games in St. John’s each season.

However, the MacDonald/Stanford group isn’t the only one considering a hockey team for St. John’s next season.

St. John’s Edge basketball owner Irwin Simon told The Telegram’s Brendan McCarthy last weekend he, too, wants to bring hockey to the city.

But the group led by Simon has yet to land a team. Simon has expressed an interest in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but the league is not expanding, and no teams are reportedly available for sale and relocation.

As part of the lease arrangement with Mile One Centre, Simon has an exclusivity clause, giving him an 18-month window in which to obtain a hockey franchise to operate out of Mile One.

But there reportedly is a sub-clause that states if another group comes forward with a plan to deliver hockey to the facility, that window would begin to close.

In early December, the MacDonald/Stanford group formally served notice it was in a position to obtain an ECHL team for St. John’s. That opened a 45-day window in which the Edge owners could respond with their own proposal and retain their exclusivity.

Unless things have changed since last weekend when McCarthy spoke with Simon, the Edge owner does not have a team, and the 45-day mark comes Monday, at which time MacDonald and Stanford can begin negotiations with St. John’s Sports and Entertainment — which runs Mile One — on a lease agreement.

It should be noted Simon can still pursue a hockey franchise as long as no lease deal is in place with MacDonald.

Calls to MacDonald and Stanford Friday seeking confirmation were not returned.

Related stories:

BRENDAN McCARTHY: Faceoff over Mile One: Local group seeks ECHL franchise for St. John’

It's spring ... can you hear the buzzing about the 'Q' back in St. John's?

Stanford named by QMJHL to committee selecting site of 2019 Memorial Cup

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