City looks to recover from Thunder loss

Published 10:45 am Thursday, June 3, 2010

A week after the Albert Lea Thunder hockey roster was sold to an expansion franchise in Texas, city leaders are surveying the effect of the decision on the city and specifically City Arena. 

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison said the Thunder paid between $40,000 and $50,000 a year since it came to Albert Lea to rent ice time for games, practices and other events at City Arena. 

The team typically practiced during the early afternoon when there were not other groups using the ice. 

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“It was a nice addition to the revenue of the building,” Hutchison said. “And it hurts because we don’t have that revenue anymore.”

He said city officials were disappointed to hear that the Thunder will not be in Albert Lea but they anticipated this was what might happen. 

“We were sad because we enjoyed working with them,” he said. “We were hoping they would find another team or someone. We wish those kids luck.”

Right now, Hutchison said, the city does not have any efforts in place to fill the void, but he remains hopeful the league will continue its efforts to have a team here. 

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“They’re going to be working on that in the next few years,” he said.

And with the new locker rooms and other amenities at the arena, he thinks the city has a facility that might draw people in, Hutchison added. 

Meanwhile, the city is going to have to make up for the money somehow.

“We don’t know where that’s going to be at this point,” he noted, pointing out, however, that the city will try to sell some ice to other groups.

He sad both sheets of ice in the arena are pretty full during the week and on the weekends when school is out.

The Thunder decision came last Wednesday when the North American Hockey League held its entry draft and no Albert Lea franchise was listed as one of the teams selecting players. 

A last minute deal to bring a franchise to Albert Lea fell apart when Terry Hughes’ application did not go through with the league.

The draft put some finality to a rocky two-year run for the Albert Lea franchise. The NAHL banished Thunder owner Barry Soskin after it found Soskin engaged in a pay-to-play model with several current and former players. 

The league ordered Soskin to pay $400,000 to keep his membership in the league after Soskin failed to post the $200,000 league-required cash bond at the start of the 2009-2010 season. 

The league also stipulated that Soskin repay all money taken through the pay-to-play agreement and pay a $50,000 fine. 

The league estimated Soskin owed $100,000 to the players’ families.

Eight players were believed to have been involved with the pay-to-play model.