Hockey league eyeing arena

Howelsen might house Triple A play

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The city is in preliminary negotiations that could bring ice hockey's highest-level junior development league to Steamboat Springs.

In the past six weeks, the city has been in discussions with league organizer Claude Lemieux, a former Colorado Avalanche player, about Howelsen Ice Arena housing one of six teams in a proposed Colorado AAA league.

Lemieux said he and a group of investors have talked to officials at about 10 sites in Colorado about hosting AAA teams. Steamboat Springs is one of six sites that are in the next stage of negotiations. Other towns include Grand Junction, Greeley, Pueblo and Westminster.

Lemieux and his group of investors also are looking at playing larger games at Denver University's ice arena and the World Arena, where Colorado College plays.

He also has plans to bring an international tournament to Colorado, which will start with European teams.

Although AAA leagues exist in the Midwest and in Canada, the western part of the United States does not have any, Lemieux said.

"There is a big pool of players out here desperate for a place to play. It is just a great space for what we are trying to accomplish. Colorado has a lot to offer," Lemieux said, noting that Colorado has more ice arenas to choose from than other western states such as California, Nevada and Arizona.

He stressed that his group is just in the process of looking into agreements and contracts with Colorado arenas to house the team, and that the league is not finalized.

City Manager Paul Hughes said the city has talked with Lemieux about whether the conditions are right and whether there is a enough interest in Steamboat Springs to house a AAA team.

"We had some very interesting conversations. They are committed to doing the thing right and doing it well. We've said, 'Sounds interesting, why don't you take a look at the ice rink,'" Hughes said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council, which would have to approve the team, discussed the preliminary negotiations at Tuesday night's meeting. A contract has been presented to the city, and various user groups at Howelsen Ice Arena have discussed how the team could affect already limited ice time. The city has very active adult and youth hockey programs and a figure skating club.

Under the contract, the team would practice four times a week and have a game every other weekend, city attorney Tony Lettunich said. Its season would begin with tryouts in August and end in March. The season would include about 60 games, 25 of which would be home games at Howelsen Ice Arena, he said.

"The big issue is it would use up some of the ice time," Lettunich said. "But, it certainly would not cost the city any money."

The team would pay a premium for ice time, and added income could come into the city through concession sales and added advertising in the ice arena. The league likely would charge about $9 for admittance into games, Lemieux said.

The AAA league is the highest level on the junior development program and has high school- to college-aged players. Players from the AAA leagues can go on to play in Division I college hockey programs or for semi-professional teams.

The team could draw players from across the United States, Lemieux said, and an important component is having players go to school while they are on the team.

"Our program is built for education first," he said.

The goal is to have tryouts by August 2005 and league play that season.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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