A deal has been struck that will bring a new professional hockey team to Omaha next year. The team will be known as the Knights, civic leaders knowledgeable about the new franchise have told The World-Herald.
Although the Ak-Sar-Ben coliseum is long gone and the new team will play at the Civic Auditorium, the connection with Ak-Sar-Ben also will be renewed. The civic leaders said that the nonprofit organization Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben will be the local investor that the Calgary Flames - the National Hockey League parent club of the new American Hockey League franchise - have been seeking as a condition of locating in Omaha.
A press conference is expected Monday March 28th afternoon to announce the agreement between the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben - an organization of prominent business and civic leaders that for decades has sponsored civic events and raised money for local and state causes - and the NHL team.
Calgary and AHL officials have talked about putting a team in Omaha to enhance a Midwestern push by the league, which will include an expansion franchise next season in Des Moines. But finding a local investor was the key. The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben adopted a resolution at its last meeting to join with the Flames to form the local ownership.
Other AHL cities have arrangements between local investors and a parent NHL team.
The parent Calgary club will manage and operate the team, providing the business staff as well as the coaches and players. The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben will provide financial support. The details of the financial arrangement could not immediately be determined.
Ken King, president and CEO of the Flames, declined to confirm that a deal has been completed. "As we have in the past, we remain hopeful that we can come to a successful conclusion to the process in Omaha," said King.
When asked if he had travel plans for Omaha, King said: "There's a good chance that there will be a requirement for me to wind up back in Omaha in the near future." King would not elaborate.
Dave Andrews, president of the AHL, did not return phone calls.
The Knights are expected to play a 40-game home schedule at the Civic and will be one of 30 teams in the AHL.
Jason Chaimovitch, the AHL's director of communications, said preferred home dates are submitted to the league from its members in February and March. The schedule is then formulated and released by the last week in July or the first week in August.
The AHL regular season normally operates from mid-October through mid-April. Playoffs can run into late May or early June.
The league, which serves as the NHL's top development circuit, is operating with 28 teams this season. Average league attendance is 5,907 per game. The Chicago Wolves, with an average of 8,988, and the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs, averaging 8,945, lead the league in attendance. Albany, N.Y., is last in attendance with an average of 3,625.
"I really do feel it's a great thing for the city," said Gordon, who now serves as president and CEO of Community Health Charities of Nebraska. "This is a great addition to the revitalization of downtown Omaha. It's been a long time, but I think it's a great opportunity for the business community and the Chamber of Commerce."