Monday, July 16, 2001

Cyclones to play in ECHL

Less expenses, younger players in East Coast Hockey League

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A younger, cheaper version of the Cincinnati Cyclones will reappear Oct. 20 in the Firstar Center.

        The minor-league hockey team, given up by some for dead when its owner filed for bankruptcy in March, will play in the lower-level East Coast Hockey League under new ownership that includes National Hockey League great Phil Esposito.

        The team's new owners and Nederlander Worldwide Inc., which bought the Firstar Center out of bankruptcy last month, will announce the 15-year deal this morning.

        Technically, they will move the moribund Miami franchise here, and are final izing an affiliation with the NHL's Nashville Predators.

        Jane Huelsman of College Hill, who hasn't missed a Cyclones home game in a decade, dating to when the team played at the Cincinnati Gardens, said she would continue to buy tickets.

        “As long as they're called the Cyclones, I'll follow them anywhere,” she said.

        The reappearance of the Cyclones in the 29-team ECHL is the latest chapter in the team's tumultuous history since being founded here in 1989. In 1997, owner Doug Kirchhofer bought Riverfront Coliseum and moved the Cyclones there — with disastrous financial consequences.

        Unable to pay a mortgage on the arena and stem the Cyclones' losses, the company owning both filed for bankruptcy this spring.

        When the International Hockey League folded this year, many onlookers questioned whether the Cyclones would be back to compete with the American Hockey League's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

        David LeFevre, head of the new ownership group, said lower costs and cheaper players will make the new franchise work.

        Mr. LeFevre and Mr. Esposito were former owners of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.

        The new Cyclones could pay as little as $300,000 in player costs and $1 million in overall costs, far less than the Cyclones. That is mandated by the ECHL, which imposes a $9,500 weekly salary cap.

        And the Cyclones' opponents will be in cities like Dayton and Toledo, compared to long IHL road trips to cities like Orlando, Fla.

        “At the minor-league level, you can't be chartering aircraft to go play hockey games,” Mr. LeFevre said. “The East Coast Hockey League is a much better business model. The IHL was a failure.”

        The team's financial projections call for drawing at least 2,000 to 3,000 fans per game. Last year, the team drew more than 4,600 customers per game.

        The average age of ECHL players is 24, league president Rick Adams said. Each team is allowed only four “veterans” who have played at least 240 professional games.

        “Many of these players are trying to earn their first contract,” Mr. Adams said. “That's a level of intensity that we think fans will enjoy.”

        Mr. LeFevre said the new Cy clones will employ former team captain Don Biggs in the front office.


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