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Junior hockey could be coming to Willmar

WILLMAR -- The Cardinal Arena could be home to a Tier 3 National American Hockey League junior team if the city of Willmar approves a lease agreement. Steve Brisendine, Willmar Community Education and Recreation director, announced the opportunit...

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The Willmar Civic Center main rink, which opened in 1980, is home ice for both Willmar varsity teams.” This photo shows a boys game in February. File | Tribune

WILLMAR - The Cardinal Arena could be home to a Tier 3 National American Hockey League junior team if the city of Willmar approves a lease agreement.
Steve Brisendine, Willmar Community Education and Recreation director, announced the opportunity at Monday’s meeting of the Willmar Finance Committee.
No action was taken at the committee level. The lease agreement will be in front of the full council April 4.
“They’re very excited to be coming to Willmar,” Brisendine said.
The ownership group is called The Blizzard LLC, which includes Chris and Mitria Canavati. They already own a Tier 3 team and a Tier 2 team.
“We feel they know what it takes to run a team,” said Public Works Director Sean Christensen, who has hosted a junior hockey player in the past.
Junior hockey is open to players 16 to 20 years old, who are looking to improve their game beyond what their high school or club teams can give them. Many play with the goal of being recruited by a college program or moving up through the professional ranks, Christensen said. Tier 3 is the lowest level of the junior hockey program. There are junior teams in Breezy Point, Alexandria, Austin, Sauk Centre and in the Twin Cities.
City staff and the team ownership group have been discussing and negotiating the agreement for several months.
“Staff has done a good job negotiating. It is probably the best of both worlds,” City Administrator Larry Kruse said.
The agreement specifies that the ownership group will pay the city $40,000 for the lease of the Civic Center’s Cardinal Arena, to be paid in eight monthly payments of $5,000. The agreement includes leasing the Cardinal Arena for approximately 200 hours of ice time for practices and 22 home games along with locker rooms and office space.  
“They know what they’re getting, we know what we have to offer,” Christensen said.
The committee members Monday requested a breakdown of all the costs related to the agreement. Brisendine sent out the lease agreement, with a cost breakdown, to the council members Wednesday.
Brisendine said during Monday’s meeting that the venture is currently viewed as revenue neutral. The additional utility costs for the extra ice time in the fall and spring would run approximately $25,000, staffing game days would be about $2,500 and extra cleaning supplies would be about $2,500, according to the expense breakdown provided by Brisendine. All of the extra expenses should be covered by the $40,000 lease agreement.
There is the opportunity to add revenue if local groups rent out the ice during the extended season. If the junior team moves to town, it would increase the amount of time during the year there would be ice available at the Cardinal Arena. Ice would go down in early September and continue through March.
“We’d get more programming and use,” Christensen said.
The city would provide the concessions, splitting the net profits 50-50 with the team. The team would be able to sell its merchandise and alcoholic beverages, and keep all profits from those sales.
Council member Denis Anderson said it would be good to have the owners present at the April 4 City Council meeting to answer any questions the council might have.  
Members of the Willmar City Council committee did have concerns about conflict between the new team and groups who already use the arena, including the Willmar Senior High School boys and girls hockey team.
“We don’t anticipate a lot of that,” Brisendine said.
The junior team would practice during the day and be done before the high school and youth teams practice. There could be a few conflicts with games, but the junior team would play almost exclusively Friday and Saturday nights. Christensen said high school games are usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, while youth games are during the day on Saturdays.
“This would match very well with current users of the facility,” Christensen said.
Brisendine has letters of support from the Willmar Hockey Association and the Diamond Edge Figure Skating Club. Both mention the longer ice season at the arena as a positive for their organizations.
There should be no conflict with curling, as that sport uses the Blue Line Arena.
“Local hockey wants us to support this. User groups have fully supported us in this venture,” said Brisendine.
“I think it’s very welcome by all parties,” Christensen said.
Brisendine also received emails from the cities of Sauk Rapids and Austin. Both said having a junior hockey team has been a positive for the communities. The emails said the teams are involved in the community and have brought extra business to local restaurants, bars and hotels on game nights.
If everything works out, hockey fans in and around Willmar might have a new team to cheer for come this fall.
“If it works out, it seems like a winning proposition,” Anderson said.

Related Topics: JUNIOR HOCKEY
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