PLLYMOUTH — The Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League announced Wednesday, Jan. 14 at a press conference at Compuware Arena the sale of their franchise to IMS USA, Inc. The Whalers will relocate to Perani Arena in Flint for the 2015- 16 season. The sale will be complete pending OHL approval at its Feb. 2 meeting in Toronto.
Whalers governor Mike Vellucci read a prepared statement with owner Peter Karmanos and new Perani Arena owners Costa Papista and Captain Rolf Nilsen in attendance. Karmonos noted that it was important that the franchise remained in the United States.
“It’s a bitter-sweet moment,” Karmanos said at the press conference. “The best thing about this is that the OHL franchise stays in the States, pending board approval. Flint is an ideal location for an Ontario Hockey League team.”
Nilsen will take ownership of the team at the end of the current season. He and Papista purchased Perani Arena in December and initially applied to the USHL for a franchise expansion, but withdrew that application on Jan. 8 after it ramped up talks with the Ontario Hockey League to acquire a team. A confidentiality agreement with the OHL was signed by Papista on Jan. 12.
In late November, an agreement was put into place to sell Compuware Arena to USA Hockey with the intent to move USA Hockey’s 18-and-under programs into the facility. Karmanos was looking to move or sell his franchise because of poor attendance, which ranked the Whalers third worst in the OHL. In their initial season in 1997-98 the Whalers drew 3,180 fans. Last season, that dropped to 2, 373. Perani Arena seats 4,021 for hockey, with standing room for an additional 400.
Chatham, Ontario was also being looked at as a new location for the Whalers.
“Our goal from day one, and first of all, we just closed on the facility (Perani Arena) on Dec. 31, said Papista. “We now own the arena. Prior to Dec. 30, the previous owner Standard Insurance Company gave us permission to start working in the building. That was very generous of them.”
“We started to prepare office space to try to land the highest-caliber hockey franchise for 2015-16. That was our main priority from day one. You have to have a successful and vibrant tenant in order to have a successful and vibrant franchise. The better the league and caliber and history of the league, the greater the likelihood of attendance, success and interest from the public”
Papista said in the short two-week span since closing on Perani Arena, he and Nilsen have made great inroads in what is a long and precise process.
“It’s been a long process,” Papista explained. “All the reputable leagues have high levels of criteria such as ownership and demographics as far as economics in the area. They want to make sure that Flint and Genesee (County) can support a franchise for a very long time. That’s why the leagues do such due diligence on the site, owners et cetera.”
“The other thing that is a little tricky is that a lot of these leagues start making their schedules in January, so they need to know if there is a new team or franchise coming in. In the case of the OHL, their big meeting is Feb. 2.”
Ontario Hockey League
Major Junior team, 1997-2015
Record over 17 seasons: 666-362-56
Expansion franchise for 1990-91 season.
Detroit Compuware Ambassadors (1990- 1992)
Detroit Junior Red Wings (1992-1995)
Detroit Whalers (1995-1997)
Plymouth Whalers (1997-2015)