BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
Besides player movement, there are some much bigger moves coming in Bridgeport.
Cantlon’s Corner has learned from several sources Friday that the New York Islanders will relocate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island when the parent club leaves for Brooklyn, and the Barclays Center following the conclusion of the 2014-2015 regular season. It was announced last June by Bruce Ratner, owner of Forest City Ratner whose company won the bid over MSG to renovate and then run the Nassau Coliseum stated that the Sound Tiger would move there, but it was expected to be after the renovations were done in 2017.
Since then the Islanders have been sold to Arthur Ledecky and Scott Malkin who at present are the minority owners. The two will assume the majority role in two years from Charles Wang. Add that to the AHL undergoing its most significant restructuring in its history with the announcement last month of the creation of a Pacific Division making the AHL a true coast-to-coast league.
Clearly the timetable and conditions have changed.
However, that will not end AHL hockey in Bridgeport.
As required, the only way for the existing team to exit the existing lease in Bridgeport is for the Islanders to find a new partner to assume that lease as-is. Well, they’ve done that. The New Jersey Devils will move their farm from Albany, N.Y. to the Webster Bank Arena and will be there at least for the remaining term if the lease which runs until 2021.
Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment presently manages the Webster Bank Arena and their contract runs concurrently to 2021 as well.
It will end the Islanders 14-year long relationship with the City of Bridgeport that began with some controversy. The late Roy Boe purchased the AHL’s Beast of New Haven for $2 million, thirty days after the team folded. Boe’s group outbid Paragon Sports for the first lease at the building, then known as, “The Arena at Harbor Yard.” Boe’s offer was for an unheard of 20 years for $20 million. Paragon Sport’s offered 10 years and $11 million. This all came at the time that the New Haven Coliseum was about to be shutdown and was eventually demolished.
The ECHL had been slated to go into the new arena, which had not sold it’s naming rights yet to Webster Bank. Boe, along with the AHL, was able to swoop in and win the contract with the building operator at the time, Centerplate, which was primarily a food concession company.
The Islanders, who’s AHL affiliation was in Lowell, MA at the time, pulled their players out of the team and put them in Springfield after a dispute between then Islanders GM Mike Milbury and then Lowell coach Tom Rowe (now in San Antonio), who was unaware of the move.
The Sound Tigers went to the Calder Cup Finals their first year in, “The Park City,” and lost to the Chicago Wolves in five games. The team has never approached that level of success since.
For years, rumors have swirled around that the New York Rangers would move from Hartford to Bridgeport. There was some interest, but the lease and building’s operating debt, according to MSG sources, was the reason a marriage could never be made. Two years ago, Global Spectrum opted not to submit a bid for the new management contract after Centerplate chose not to renew due to the aforementioned issues.
There will be another AHL Eastern city move by the end of this year and several moves East and West after next season as the restructuring of the AHL continues.
Esteemed AHL beat writer Mike Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post, who has covered the team since its inception, also has a piece on the Sound Tigers situation. That piece can be read HERE.