Hockey League (UHL)
County Veterans Memorial Arena
Norwich Car Dealer Finalizing Deal To Buy Troubled Icemen
June 6, 2001
Doug Schneider and Scott Lauber
The owner of a Norwich automobile dealership has all but closed a deal to purchase the BC Icemen and keep the team in Broome County as least through next season.
David Wright, a suburban Syracuse resident who operates Chenango County Chrysler, said Tuesday an agreement could be announced as early as today in which he would acquire ownership of the cash-strapped United Hockey League franchise from founders David Pace, Mark Palombo, and Patrick Snyder.
“We’re very close to a deal,” said Wright, who wouldn’t disclose terms of the agreement. “But by no stretch is it done.”
On Tuesday, though, Palombo and coach Brad Jones confirmed Wright will be the new boss of the UHL team that has played its home games in Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena for the past four seasons.
“He’s the new owner,” said Jones, captain of the inaugural Icemen in 1997-98 and coach for the past three seasons. “He’s very excited about taking over. He has a very strong background from a business sense, and he’s anxious to get going.”
Jones, who will likely return for a fourth season behind the Icemen bench, is also slated to become the team’s director of hockey operations. He’s scheduled to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday to represent the Icemen at the UHL meetings. Jones said Wright will meet him there Sunday.
A sale would end a roller-coaster spring of rumors that swirled around Binghamton’s hockey franchise.
At various times in the past two months, the city had been reported to be a potential landing spot for the American Hockey League’s troubled Kentucky franchise, as well as a place that might have to go without hockey for the first time in almost 30 seasons.
Wright, co-owner with his brother of two northern New Jersey dealerships, said he has been involved in serious discussions with the team’s owners for almost a month.
It wasn’t immediately clear if one or more of the original owners would remain involved with the team for which Palombo, Pace and Snyder paid $500,000 in 1997.
Palombo said he won’t have a financial interest but will assist Wright by offering marketing strategies.
“David has shown genuine interest in keeping the UHL in Binghamton,” Palombo said. “He’ll hopefully add a lot of new dimensions, build a new tradition and make the product better.
Pace, an Endicott native who lives in Dallas, Tex., was the owner with the most financial clout. He didn’t discount the possibility of becoming a minority investor.
“The issue from my perspective has been if I want to carry the load while still being in Dallas,” Pace said. “(Staying involved) is not out of the realm of possibility. I feel a lot of loyalty to this team after helping to create it four years ago.”
Wright was reluctant to discuss his plans for the Icemen until a deal is complete, but he said fans should like what they see, Jones was encouraged by many of Wright’s promotional ideas when the two met almost two weeks ago.
“If I end up being an owner, I’m not interested in putting a mediocre team on the ice,” Wright said. “I’m interested in filling the Arena.”
That was a problem for ownership this past season, when the franchise went from two-time defending division champions to a sub-.500 team that missed the UHL playoffs.
While management reported a best-ever year for advertising sales, the team averaged 2,873 fans per game, a record low in 28 seasons of professional hockey at the Arena.
The challenge for Wright and Jones will be turning around the franchise’s fortunes.
“This could be great depending on what (Wright’s) intentions are,” said Binghamton’s Mark Mazzanoble, 31, who attended all 37 Icemen home games last season. “If he runs it on a shoestring budget, and you’ve got the same lame players and empty arena and no excitement, it’ll be more of the same. But if he makes it exciting again, it’ll be great.”
Said Jones: “(Wright) wants to do a lot of different things to make this successful. He wants to do lots promotions, lots of incentives to get people in the building. He wants to make it an affordable night of entertainment, and of course, we want to field a competitive team that people will want to come out and see.”
Ownership reported difficulty collecting tens of thousands of dollars the team claims it was owed by creditors, and was months overdue on an $18,600 payment to the downtown hotel its selected to host events during the UHL All-Star Classic in January.
That happened although the team was able to negotiate a new lease last August with the Arena’s operator, Broome County. The deal reduced the team’s building-rental fee to a bargain basement $1,000 per game, down from a minimum of $1,300.
If the team is sold, Wright and County Executive Jeffrey Kraham both said they don’t anticipate attempts to renegotiate the lease, which runs through the 2005-06 season.
“The county has already done everything it could to help the team,” said Kraham.
Also this week, the American Hockey League team that once considered relocating to Binghamton found a new home.
The Kentucky Thoroughblades, whose owners visited Broome County this past season, will relocate to Cleveland; The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer newspaper reported Monday. The team, which will have a new name, succeeds the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League, which ceased operations this week.