LEWISTON — A couple of reports circulating widely across the hockey world say the Lewiston Maineiacs appear to once again be on their way out of town, this time to the city of Summerside, on Prince Edward Island.

The team’s president and governor, Bill Schurman, says otherwise.

It’s shaping up to be yet another case of he said/he said involving the Maineiacs, who two years ago pulled up stakes and tried to relocate to Boisbriand, Quebec, only to be blocked by another team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League exercising its territorial rights.

That move backfired, and the team stayed in Lewiston.

Two years later, attendance has improved — barely — but the team continues to hemorrhage money. That, Schurman said, is likely what continues to fuel the persistent rumors.

“The reasons the rumor has started is that people who follow this level of hockey understand that we’re struggling,” Schurman said. “That’s life. Unfortunately, we have a product, and people have to buy enough of that product for us to pay our bills. And we’re struggling to pay our bills right now.”

That doesn’t mean the team has agreed to go anywhere, he said.

“The important part right now is that none of that is coming from the team or the city,” Schurman said. “It’s coming from two individuals who live 45 miles from that (prospective new home) city. We’ve been on record and we’ve spoken to our players and staff, our volunteers, that if there is news on where we call home, we will publicly pass that information along and share that with our supporters and with our community.”

This time, if the Maineiacs choose to move, there would be no territorial rights in play. Summerside is 40 miles west of Charlottetown, the capital city of Prince Edward Island and the current home of the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket.

The mayor of Charlottetown said Wednesday that he believed a deal between the Maineiacs and the city of Summerside was imminent.

“The information I have received is that a deal has been struck with the city of Summerside and Lewiston,” Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee told The Guardian newspaper early Wednesday.

PEI businessman Tim Banks, former owner and general manager of the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, tweeted Tuesday that the deal included a $1.5 million gate guarantee, and that the deal was all but signed, sealed and delivered.

Not so fast, say the Lewiston Maineiacs.

“As I get questions from you right now, we do not have an agreement to move this team,” Schurman said. “Our focus is on working in what has been our second-best season in franchise history and prepare for our playoffs. I can’t stop people from thinking, and I can’t stop people in this world from telling people what they think, but unless it’s somebody intimately involved in the organization, all I can say is that they’re entitled to their opinion, and I don’t agree with it.”

Following up on his original comments, Mayor Lee said he’d be “shocked” if the league approved such a move.

“A province with 140,000 people can’t possibly support two Quebec Major Junior teams,” Lee said.

The PEI Rocket, a QMJHL team playing out of the Charlottetown Civic Centre, is just far enough from Summerside to be unable to block the move of the team based on territorial rights. The Maineiacs’ previous attempt to relocate — to Boisbriand, Quebec, two years ago — failed when the Montreal Junior, based in Verdun, exercised its right to block the Maineiacs’ move.

In addition to the mayor of Charlottetown, the Rocket’s president and general manager, Serge Savard Jr., said any move to place two QMJHL teams in Prince Edward Island would be a big mistake.

“I think two teams would go bankrupt in a couple of years if they are here at the same time,” Savard said in a phone interview with the Sun Journal on Wednesday.

“It’s a struggle to have one team in the biggest city to survive,” Savard said. “If you ask me if two teams can survive, with the corporate (support) here, it’s impossible.”

It’s a similar problem the Maineiacs are running into in Lewiston. In nearly eight full seasons, the team has yet to break even, coming closest in 2006-07 when it went on to win a league title.

Most teams spend between $1.5 million and $1.8 million on operating costs, Schurman said.

“If we pick the low end, and say $1.5 million, we need that much to at least break even,” he said. “We have not had a break-even season since this team has arrived. We have incurred significant losses in the past number of years, and this year is looking to be no different. At the end of the day, we’re like any other business, we must pay the money to people we owe money to. The only way you can pay that is to attract corporate partners, to sell tickets, or go to the owner. Unfortunately, No. 3 has been picked many times.”

Ticket numbers have been stronger this season than in years past, at least on the surface.

“Our average ticket price right now is $6.71, for the number of tickets we’ve printed, and the amount of revenue we’ve received,” Schurman said. “The numbers that you see include billet tickets, include player tickets, include promotional tickets, include donations to people. Every ticket printed is what the announced attendance is. So when you look at the math, the team should average $11 a ticket … Most teams in our league will get 450 to 500 thousand in corporate support. We’re not even close to that.”

Despite the monetary gap, and despite the heavy dose of rumors in recent days, Schurman said Wednesday that no deal was in place, and that if a deal to relocate is ever reached, the Maineiacs won’t try to duck the issue.

“These rumors started before I even came here,” Schurman said. “We have been open, with our players and with our staff, we’ve been as open as we can be with our billets and our volunteers that we will not leave in the middle of the night; we will not leave in a pickup truck. I’ve been in contact with the mayors of the cities here and have told them they will be among the first to know if something is happening.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League officially has a Jan. 31 deadline for teams to notify the league if they are seeking to relocate, though extensions have been granted to teams — including Lewiston — in the past. According to league spokesman Karl Jahnke, the league has yet to receive an official request for relocation.


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