PLYMOUTH, Mich. - Peter Karmanos has announced the sale of the Plymouth Whalers to a new owner who will relocate the team to Flint.
The Whalers will begin play in Flint in the fall of 2015. The Ontario Hockey League still has to approve the team's sale and move to another city.
"It's a bitter-sweet moment. The best thing about this is that the OHL franchise stays in the States, pending board approval. Flint is an ideal location for an Ontario Hockey League team," Karmanos said Wednesday during a news conference.
Karmanos pointed to rival teams in Saginaw and Sarnia, Ontario, for reasons why moving to Flint is ideal. He was joined by Whalers Governor and Carolina Hurricanes Assistant GM/Director of Hockey Operations Mike Vellucci, who was coach and GM of the Whalers for years.
"Karmanos has signed a purchase agreement to sell the team to Rolf Nilsen," said Vellucci. "Rolf's intention is to transfer the team to his new building, Perani Arena & Event Center in Flint, Michigan, for the 15-16 season."
Vellucci said this deal needs OHL board approval. The next board meeting is Feb. 2 in Toronto.
Nilsen is technical director at IMS USA Inc., which recently acquired the Flint arena. It is a Florida-based company which makes air-tight doors. He and Costa Papista, IMS USA Inc. president, both spoke at the news conference.
"I think Flint is a great place. There's always been hockey there, for many years," said Nilsen. "We can hopefully grow hockey interest in Flint, bring it back to what it used to be, maybe better, and put the name on the map for hockey in Flint."
It's not clear if the team name will be changed under new ownership. The Whalers name is a nod to Karmanos' former NHL team, the Hartford Whalers. That team is now the Carolina Hurricanes, which Karmanos still owns.
The Whalers moving rumors began swirling since before the team started this season. Karmanos said during a summer news conference that a move was possible if attendance at the arena in Plymouth Township remained low.
Many believed the team would relocate to southwestern Ontario -- possibly Chatham-Kent. However, according to Flint media reports, the owner of Flint's Perani Arena & Event Center has been working to bring the team to its rink, which can hold more than 4,400 hockey fans.
"I think we have an opportunity to do something very big in Genesee County," said Papista.
The Whalers have played at Compuware Arena since 1997. Karmanos had the arena built for the team the year before. It seats between 3,500 and 4,500 depending on the event. There are two sheets of ice in the complex -- an NHL-size rink and an Olympic-size rink.
A November 2014 news release from USA Hockey said the USA Hockey Foundation could acquire the arena by the first half of 2015. USA Hockey wants to relocate its National Team Development Program to Compuware Arena. The program currently is based at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Its teams compete in the United States Hockey League (USHL), which is considered the top junior ice hockey league in the United States.
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