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OHL in Waterloo just a dream
angers, Storm can easily stop violin virtuoso's grand plan
February 07, 2009
An Ontario Hockey League franchise relocating to Waterloo?
That would be music to Frank Leahy's 47-year-old ears.
But there are tough questions which must be answered by the Waterloo resident and violin virtuoso.
Like, why would the Kitchener Rangers and Guelph Storm waive their territorial rights to allow an OHL competitor to set up shop at the 3,500-seat Waterloo Memorial Recreational Complex? Well, why would they?
"Here's what we should do," said Leahy, whose group goes before Waterloo city council on Monday asking for two years of exclusive rights to make a sales pitch to the OHL on Waterloo's behalf.
"If I can't answer your question, why don't I play you a fiddle tune."
Sure, knock yourself out.
So Leahy, a first cousin to the Celtic music group Leahy and caretaker of Don Messer's famous fiddle, went to work.
Maybe he should do the national anthem at a Rangers or Storm game.
Because fiddling around won't sway those two teams to look the other way while the Waterloo Nationals -- named after Father David Bauer's national team program -- take to the ice six kilometres from the Aud and 30 kilometres from the Sleeman Centre.
Leahy said his group approached OHL commish Dave Branch last summer.
But the Storm and Rangers, rivals on the ice last night at the Aud, each grip the baton in this performance.
"I don't see how the Rangers would benefit out of this," Rangers chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski said.
"No one has shown me that yet. But I am open to be shown."
Bienkowski has asked Leahy, who once skated for the Elmira Sugar Kings and University of Guelph Gryphons, for an explanation.
The two have met several times to exchange information.
"He just told me what he'd like to do there, not how the Rangers would benefit," Bienkowski said.
Leahy is confident the Rec Complex will work for an OHL team.
"We feel we have a market. We feel we have an arena," said Leahy, who has six of his seven children in Waterloo minor hockey.
"We're excited about the possibility . . ."
Money is likely not an issue. Leahy's wife Lisa Bauer-Leahy, a former Olympic field hockey player, is from Waterloo's wealthy Bauer clan.
She is chief executive officer of Bauer Industries. Her dad Ray played for the K-W Dutchmen team that bombed Denmark 47-0 at the 1949 worlds. Her uncle was Father David Bauer. Another uncle, Bobby, played on the Kraut Line with Milt Schmidt and Woody Dumart.
Sounds like a great fit, right? Then, think of the Rangers and Storm. They both can kill Waterloo with a thumbs down.
Would the Storm allow a relocated OHL club, possibly the Erie Otters, to play in nearby Waterloo?
"On the surface, that would appear to be a difficult thing to do," Storm governor and part-owner Rick Gaetz said.
"Whether it's in Waterloo or Cambridge or any other surrounding area. First and foremost, we would do what's best for our fans and the hockey club."
That doesn't mean that the Storm wouldn't listen to Leahy's siren song.
"In business, you listen to everything," Gaetz said. "But we will not compromise the hockey club, our fans or the city of Guelph in that process. Nor should we, if we are passionate about the team and passionate about the fans. That's the only view they would expect us to have."
Doesn't sound like the Storm would waive their territorial rights for a few million bucks.
And the Rangers are subscriber-owned and community-driven. There is no owner to hand a wad of bills to.
Leahy's hockey ownership ambitions have been linked to Waterloo billionaire Jim Balsillie in the past, when Leahy was orchestrating an attempt to bring the OHL's IceDogs to Waterloo. The Dogs ended up moving from Mississauga to St. Catharines. No fiddlers on the woof for Waterloo.
The OHL isn't looking to expand. But which clubs might be on the move?
No answer from Leahy there. However, Brampton, Plymouth, Owen Sound and Erie could be candidates.
The loudest rumblings are out of Erie.
So who's in Leahy's potential Nationals ownership group? Leahy wouldn't' answer. He fiddled the tune Charlie's Edge.
When might the team take the ice if all goes well? He performed Mason's Apron.
Since the Rangers are planning to build a new 9,000 to 12,000 seat rink as they continue to jam fans into the 6,436-capacity Aud, why would they want to divvy up the region's hockey market? Leahy went right to a piece called Faster, Faster.
His OHL dream for Waterloo may die in a hurry with a new rink for the dominant Rangers.
His only argument right now could be that the Rangers, because of their 58-year-old arena, can't meet community demand for major junior hockey in the region. That's undeniable.
"But I think I have a solution to that," Bienkowski said.
Right, a bigger rink for the Rangers.
Sharing a facility with the Rangers -- to be built in which city? -- is not part of Leahy's proposal.
Why would the Rangers want to voluntarily split up the following they've toiled 46 years to establish? Another tough question.
"We've spent a lot of years growing our brand and our fan base," said Bienkowski, a Waterloo resident.
"I think we're about to take the next leap. We'd like to continue that. The whole region could maybe benefit if our brand helps bring a new facility to the entire region. That's what we're concentrating on."