Decision on junior hockey in Albert Lea draws nearer

Published 3:22 pm Saturday, May 8, 2010

A final decision on whether junior hockey will continue to be played in Albert Lea may come soon.

The North American Hockey League set a Saturday deadline for groups wanting to purchase a new franchise, said City Arena Manager Bob Furland.

“I think there’s a glimmer of hope,” Furland said. “I’m not overly optimistic, but I think there’s hope.”

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Furland said he’s heard of two groups interested in purchasing a franchise, but did not know of any other details.

Rumors have swirled about possible ownership groups since the NAHL expelled Thunder owner Barry Soskin from the league in December, but nothing substantive has materialized. If something were to happen and a group brought a team to Albert Lea it would be a completely new franchise since Soskin still owns the Thunder trademark.

“If nothing happens this year I’m sure something will in the future,” Furland said.

Thunder head coach Chuck Linkenheld said he’d likely some finality to the situation and recently spoke with NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld.

Linkenheld expects the league to make an announcement Friday.

The Albert Lea City Council received two letters indicating interest in bringing a junior hockey team to Albert Lea. One letter came from Terry Hughes, a fireman from Crestwood, Ill., who indicated interest in bringing a NAHL team to Albert Lea.

Hughes has been in contact with the league and would purchase the existing Albert Lea franchise from the NAHL. Hughes has visited the arena and is expecting to meet with the next next week.

Hughes has submitted most of his paperwork for purchasing the team and said he expected to hear from the league late Sunday night or Monday. He said the deadline the NAHL gave him was May 15, but added he has been given several deadlines.

The other letter came from former Thunder head coach Paul Willett. In Willett’s letter he expressed an interest in bringing a Minnesota Junior Hockey League team to Albert Lea. The Minnesota Junior Hockey League is a Tier-III junior hockey league, where players pay to play.

Willett would help bring the Wisconsin Mustangs to Albert Lea and he would serve as the general manager and head coach. Members of the Albert Lea business community would serve on the team’s board of directors.

Furland expects to hear from the NAHL Monday and the City Council has items listed on its agenda concerning a NAHL team and a MJHL team for its Monday meeting.