ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Over the last thirty days, the St. Louis metropolitan area has endured triple-digit heat. On Wednesday afternoon however, the temperature turned from searing hot to an icy frost with the announcement by the Central Hockey League that minor professional hockey is returning to the Family Arena in the form of the St. Charles Chill for the 2013-14 season.
Rick Kozuback, President and CEO of Global Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the CHL, Duane Lewis, CHL Commissioner, Mark Reifsteck, Family Arena Director, Steve Ellman, County Executive of St. Charles County and Nicole Kupaks, President and General Manager of the St. Charles Chill were on hand to make the announcement held in the luxury dining area of the franchise’s new home.
Over the past two years however, dwindling attendance and revenue reversals, a stark change from earlier seasons, led ownership to search for a more viable financial home. One they hope has been found in St. Charles, a city on the banks of the Missouri River across from St. Louis County.
The most lasting part of the Bucks’ legacy in Texas might be the team’s commitment to integrating the franchise deep into the fabric of the community, a major initiative which is needed to be successful in St. Charles.
During a decade of work, the Bucks won numerous awards recognizing the franchise’s success in the community and were awarded CHL All-Star Games in 2005 and 2010, showcasing the club’s commitment to the overall entertainment experience.
“We know the Chill is in great hands with the very accomplished and highly decorated people that are heading up this effort,” CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis said . “We are also very happy with the relationship that we have built with Mark (Reifsteck) and his staff and are looking forward to strengthening that bond. This strong market and outstanding facility make this a welcome addition to our current group of member teams”. On the ice in St. Charles, the Chill will build intense rivalries with nearby foes like the Bloomington (Illinois) Blaze, Quad City Mallards (Moline, Ill.) and Missouri (Independence, Mo.) Mavericks. The Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder, two franchises who enter their 21st season in 2012, are just 400 miles away. Other nearby markets may join the 11-team circuit by 2013.
While the names of skaters on this Chill team will likely be different than those who wore Bucks uniforms this past season, the players off the ice will remain the same as ownership and general management bring their sound pedigree of vision and success to the river city.
Glenn D. Hart, who founded the Bucks in 2002, will continue to lead the franchise. Hart is CEO and co-founder of Laredo Energy, contributing thirty years of experience to the company as a successful developer of oil and gas resources throughout South Texas. He founded the original International Hockey League’s Houston Aeros, who now play in the American Hockey League and was co-owner of baseball’s New Orleans Zephyrs who play in the AAA Pacific Coast League.
In a pre-recorded video shown at today’s press conference, Hart spoke about how he fell in love with hockey and its connection to St. Louis. Living in Dallas in the late 1960s, he followed the Dallas Blackhawks of the original CHL, a team which moved from St. Louis in 1967 after the Blues of the NHL arrived in the Gateway City. Hart further spoke about how on many occasions he could pick-up the radio signal of KMOX 1120 AM late at night to enjoy Blues hockey. He recalled the excitement of hearing Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly and his partner Gus Kyle call the action of Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante and Red Berenson, players who brought the expansion Blues success in the early years of the franchise.
Hart is joined by two investors, Gustavo Hernandez and Alfonso Arguindegui. Hernandez owns and operates a private tax and accounting practice and is also involved in cattle ranching, real estate and the oil and gas industries. Alfonso Arguindegui is President of Arguindegui Management Co. LLC, which deals industrial lubricants, convenience stores and has recently entered into real estate as well as oil and gas development.
The day-to-day operations will fall under the tested leadership of President and General Manager Nicole Kupaks who arrives from Laredo having led the Bucks to success on and off the ice. She expects to apply the core elements which led to success in Laredo to St. Charles.
Kupaks’ vision is to integrate the franchise into the numerous youth hockey programs and the nearby marketplace of St. Charles County. It will be a regional team which residents of St. Charles County can call their own. Kupaks also believes the success of the NHL’s Blues only strengthens the opportunity for success as it is an alternative to a more family-friendly price point for sports entertainment.
Minor pro hockey first arrived to the area with the Missouri River Otters, who were Family Arena’s first hockey tenant from 1999 to 2006 in the now defunct United Hockey League. Toward the end of its life, the UHL’s opportunity for success was hampered by the majority of franchises being operated by investors being more astute to the sport of hockey than the business of hockey, a clear distinction from the Central Hockey League’s model for success.
The CHL enjoys strong partnerships with the venues it does not already own and operate while seeking marketplaces which provide opportunity to penetrate the attractive family unit demographic with attractive price-points for entertainment choices. As well, the CHL is highly effective in branding its franchises and establishing recognition in the marketplace, a critical element to success and something the United Hockey League struggled to accomplish and leading to its eventual demise.
The success of the nearby St. Louis Blues in the National Hockey League played a role in this decision as well. Just thirty miles east of St. Charles, the high ticket demand at elevated price points led to an opportunity to provide affordable pro hockey entertainment to families in the metro area.
It was an important element in awarding St. Charles with a franchise. Commissioner Lewis indicated three ownership groups who sought to place a new franchise in the market before the Bucks were approved to relocate from Laredo. In addition, Kupaks stated that her recent walk down Main Street in St. Charles was enough to convince her St. Charles was the right market for the franchise. The many families who flood this historic community will now have another affordable entertainment option.
As for the Family Arena, the arrival of the Chill is the second piece of good news this Summer. The United Indoor Football League announced it would enter the market and begin play as the Missouri Monsters in Spring of 2013.
“The Family Arena was built to host sporting events, and we’re very pleased to see hockey returning,” County Executive Steve Ehlmann said . “Our goal has been to offer a wide variety of events, and the St. Charles Chill certainly will add to that. We’re pleased to welcome the team and the league to St. Charles County.”
Ehlman also indicated the Family Arena is just East of the geographic center of the metropolitan area, indicating the population shift west and away from the City of St. Louis continues to make the Family Arena a closer destination for pro hockey entertainment to many area residents than the Scottrade Center, the home of the Blues.
Although once home to three minor professional sports teams since it was founded in the Fall of 1999, the Family Arena has been left to fill the majority of open dates with single night concerts and the occasional circus in recent years. The arrival of the hockey and football franchises adds a minimum of 50 events to the annual venue calendar. The venue seats 9,643 for hockey and 9,755 for football.
Citizens of the region can count on the arrival of the hockey franchise bringing more opportunities for related functions as well. As Mark Reifsteck , Family Arena General Manager stated, “We have plans to utilize the ice in other revenue producing capacities such as league play, public skates, and special events .”
Over the next few months, information about season ticket deposits, the team logo and colors along with the announcement of a head coach will be made.
For more information, visit the team’s website at www.stcharleschill.com and be sure to LIKE the team on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/StCharlesChill ) and FOLLOW the team on Twitter (@StCharlesChill). Contact the writer/photographer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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