Pending formal approval from the Ontario Hockey League, the Plymouth Whalers will be moving an hour north to Flint effective the 2015-2016 season, HockeyNewsNorth.com has confirmed.
The announcement of the sale of the Michigan-based team from Peter Karmanos to IMS USA Inc. was made official this morning.
Karmanos, who formerly owned the Windsor Spitfires, has operated an OHL team in the metro Detroit area for 25 years. The franchise has undergone several name changes — from the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors to the Detroit Jr. Wings to the Detroit Whalers to the Plymouth Whalers.
The Whalers have been playing out of Compuware Arena in Plymouth since 1997 and despite icing contending teams more often than not — they have made the playoffs 23 straight seasons — average attendance has been near the bottom of the OHL rung at just over the 2,000 mark.
Now comes the move to the 4,000-seat Perani Arena and Event Centre in nearby Flint, which has been the home of the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League since 2010. Under coach Moe Mantha — a former National Hockey League defenceman and OHL bench boss — the Warriors have averaged less than 1,000 fans per game in Flint despite winning two NAHL North Division titles in four years.
At any rate, with IMS USA Inc. having recently purchased Perani Arena and then advising the NAHL Warriors that they would not be welcome to return in 2015-2016, the OHL will now set up in Flint, which for many years was a minor-pro hockey town and home to the erstwhile Flint Generals.
Costa Papista, a 46-year old Detroit area native who played in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves and London Knights and who was the first general manager of the Saginaw Spirit, serves as president of IMS USA Inc.
Saginaw and Flint — former arch-rival, minor-pro foes from their days together in the old International Hockey League — will now be OHL opponents, separated by about 20 miles along Interstate 75.
As for Compuware Arena, sources say USA Hockey is expected to formally move its National Team Development Program there from Ann Arbor.