TORONTO – The Ontario Hockey League’s board of governors voted unanimously Monday to approve the relocation of the Brampton Battalion franchise to North Bay effective with the 2013-14 season.
“I want to thank the governors for their support for this move,” said Battalion owner Scott Abbott.
“As importantly, I want to thank Mayor Al McDonald of North Bay, the North Bay city council and the community committee that did such a fabulous job in securing three-year commitments for season tickets.”
North Bay council voted unanimously Nov. 5 to approve an agreement-in-principle with the Battalion on a 15-year lease at Memorial Gardens contingent on selling 2,000 season tickets by Dec. 31. The campaign was launched officially Nov. 8 and went through the 2,000 mark last Wednesday, six days later. The number Monday night was 2,175.
“Hockey fans in North Bay have spoken loud and proud that they want a return of OHL hockey,” said Abbott. “They have made their voice heard throughout Ontario, across Canada and in every corner of the hockey world.”
After 20 seasons, the North Bay Centennials were sold in 2002 and became the Saginaw Spirit.
“I’ve always said that you have to believe,” said McDonald, who chaired the Save the Cents campaign at that time.
Abbott said he values highly the Northern Ontario element in the league.
“The northern teams are integral to the fabric of the OHL. It wouldn’t be the same league without them and, in fact, would be poorer. The Sudbury Wolves and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are important to who and what we are. I’m happy that we’ll be providing another northern centre.”
OHL commissioner David Branch said he was impressed by North Bay’s reaction to the ticket drive.
“The response shown by the community in North Bay and the impact that had on our board was not surprising. It sent a a strong message to all our teams that North Bay has incredible hockey fans. They’re willing to embrace the OHL again and happy to have a second chance.
“The feeling in the room was as good as I have ever felt it in terms of excitement and enthusiasm.”
Said Abbott: “This is a milestone day, but a lot of work remains to be done.”
North Bay council approved a $12-million budget to upgrade Memorial Gardens, including new seats, a reconfiguration of the ice surface to 200 by 85 feet from the current 190 by 90, a new two-level home dressing room complex, office space for the club, 10 suites, video boards and an HVAC system.
“I did a walkabout in North Bay last Wednesday and was very impressed with how the building has been maintained,” said Branch. “There’s work to bring it up to contemporary standards, but it’s a very good building.”
The Battalion joined the OHL as an expansion club in 1998-99 and has struggled at the gate since its inception.
“I feel today for our loyal fans in Brampton,” said Abbott. “I’ve always said that we have a core of fans that is as dedicated, enthusiastic and knowledgeable as any in the league. There just haven’t been enough of them.
“I’ve been heartened by their reaction to recent speculation about us moving. Overwhelmingly, they’ve thanked us for 15 years and for having tried to make it work in Brampton. They’ve wished us well wherever we might go, and some now say they want to be there for the first game in North Bay.
“I understand their disappointment and deeply appreciate their good wishes.”
Abbott said that the Battalion name will be retained.
“I’ve considered other options, but I think the response of North Bay fans to the news that we might be coming has been marked by an embracing of the name. There’s a military history in the city beyond the air force connection, and we’re going to keep the name. The uniforms are instantly recognizable, and that’s important.”
The Battalion is in the 15th and last year of a lease at the Powerade Centre. It expires Aug. 15.