The recent sale of the Perani Arena and Event Centre in Flint figures to lead to the winds of change affecting more than one junior hockey team and league.
For starters, the Flint-based Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League are expected to be the first out the door when their lease at Perani Arena expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season.
Both Rolf Nilsen and Costa Papista — on behalf of IMS USA Inc., which is the new owner of Perani Arena — are on record as saying they would like to bring a United States Hockey League franchise to Flint effective the 2015-2016 season.
While the notion is that IMS USA is looking to get a USHL expansion team to play out of Perani Arena, sources are saying that Nilsen and Papista have also reached out to ownership of existing junior teams about possibly relocating to Flint.
According to the sources, Nilsen and Papista have approached the ownership of both the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL and the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League about moving to Flint. IMS USA — again through Nilsen and Papista — have also inquired about buying the Lumberjacks and the Whalers and moving one or the other to Flint, sources are saying.
Of note, the 46-year old Papista is a former OHL defenceman-left winger with the Sudbury Wolves and London Knights and erstwhile general manager of the Saginaw Spirit. In fact, Papista oversaw the transfer of the old North Bay Centennials franchise to Saginaw.
Back to the current tenant at Perani Arena, the NAHL Warriors are now firmly focused on selling and/or relocating their franchise, according to coach-general manager Moe Mantha, who is also a part owner of the team.
Mantha said the Warriors — who are in their fifth year in Flint as members of the NAHL — have been advised by IMS USA to look for a new home effective the 2015-2016 season.
The 53-year old Mantha — a former OHL defenceman with the erstwhile Toronto Marlies who went on to play in more than 650 games in the National Hockey League — said he will not be part of any relocation by the Warriors.
Mantha, who resides with his wife in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also owns a home in the northern Ontario town of Sturgeon Falls, which is where he grew up. He said he and his wife intend to move to back to the Sturgeon Falls full time at the end of the 2014-2015 hockey season. Mantha’s parents have long owned and operated a successful golf course in Sturgeon Falls.
Currently, the Warriors are one of only two Michigan-based teams in the NAHL, the Soo Eagles being the other. Just two years ago, the NAHL was home to four Michigan teams — the Warriors, Eagles, Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings and Port Huron Fighting Falcons.
But Kalamazoo folded at the end of the 2012-2013 season and Port Huron relocated to Pennsylvania prior to the start of the 2014-2015 campaign and now operates as the Keystone Ice Miners.
Hypothetically, should the Warriors relocate from Flint outside the state, the Soo would be left without a Michigan travel partner, which could lead to a number of possible scenarios for the Eagles.
But let’s not cross that bridge — the International or the Mackinac — unless we come to it.
PHOTO: Costa Papista, on behalf of IMS USA Inc., announces the purchase of the Perani Arena and Event Centre in Flint. (Photo by Mlive.com.)