SPORTS September 14th, 2006

By Carmine Bonanno

Aging arena behind Majors move

St. Mike's team plan move to nicer, larger west-end rink

The aging barn that is also known as St. Michael’s College School Arena has driven the OHL’s Majors away from the school’s St. Clair and Bathurst campus all the way to Mississauga.

"We’ve been aware for a while, so we were not overly surprised when the announcement (of the Majors eventual move) was made," said Father Joe Redican, the school’s CEO. "It is still unfortunate that it has to happen, but we had a really good run."

It has been the intentions of Majors owner Eugene Melnyk to move the team out of St. Mike’s arena and into one more suitable for a major junior team. Since buying the Majors in 2001, Melnyk, a St. Mike’s alumnus, has looked into numerous options, including a failed bid at purchasing Maple Leaf Gardens.

Father Redican agreed that St. Mike’s Arena is not the best fit for the team and understands Melnyk’s desire to have the Majors play at a nicer facility.

"We understand the arena is inadequate for an OHL team, as the ice surface is too small and the number of seats available is too low," he said, "In order for them to function properly, they need to have an arena with more seating, more parking and bigger ice."

He added that the school did look at building a new arena in the same location, but it was never possible because of the lack of space.

Melnyk plans to move the Majors to the Hershey Centre, the current home of the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Melnyk, who also owns the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, bought the Ice Dogs franchise on July 12 from previous owners Mario Forgione and Anaheim Ducks defenceman Chris Pronger.

The move will occur after Melnyk finds a suitable buyer for the Mississauga franchise, who will then relocate the team elsewhere in the province. Until that is done, the Majors will remain at St. Mike’s arena and the Ice Dogs at the Hershey Centre.

With the team eventually on the way out, Father Redican said it might have a negative impact on the local community, but the school should be able to withstand the loss.

"It will be a little more difficult for local fans to follow the team when they move to Mississauga, but that shouldn’t be the case with us," he said. "While the Majors did bring a little more notoriety to the school, we will still be able to draw students from the GTA."

Without the Majors, the school will still boast a strong team, the Double Blues, that has qualified for OFSAA the past four years. The St. Michael’s Buzzers, one of the top Junior A teams in the province, will still call St. Mike’s arena home.

An important aspect of the move will be that when the team finally resides at the Hershey Centre, the school’s name will still be linked to the team. The team will be known as the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, an association that is important for both the school and the organization, said Father Redican.

There won’t be a huge impact financially either, Father Redican said. There is always a huge demand for ice time in the city, so filling the void the Majors will leave should not be a problem. He said "everything will balance itself out."

Whether this upcoming season is the last one for the Majors at St. Mike’s arena or not, the 2006/07 campaign will still be a memorable one for the school. It will mark the 100th year of hockey at St. Michael’s College School and the 10th season for the Majors.

"Fourteen of our graduates have already made the Hockey Hall of Fame and we’ve had more than 140 our students make it to the NHL," said Father Redican. "So we will have a few hoorahs this season, so it should be a pretty special time."