Affiliation Means Long Wings Journey Nears End

April 16, 2002
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" align=right border=0>GRAND RAPIDS — Their three-year trek for an affiliate is almost over. The Detroit Red Wings traveled from Glens Falls, N.Y., to a Toledo suburb to Cincinnati before they found a home here in River City, er, Hockeytown West, where they recently signed a five-year affiliation agreement with the Grand Rapids Griffins that begins this summer.

All the storied National Hockey League team has left to do is to sell its American Hockey League franchise and then the journey will be complete. Detroit owned and operated the Adirondack Red Wings in Glens Falls for 19 years, only to shut down that franchise after the 1998-99 season when it reportedly lost $1.9 million that year.

We are currently looking at all our options, said Detroit General Manager Ken Holland. If somebody out there was interested in purchasing it, we'd certainly be willing to listen.

With the new agreement being announced sooner than planned, Holland said the Red Wings really haven't had much time to think about their dormant AHL franchise.

What were going to do with our franchise, whats going on with training camp, were still kind of working through. Again, if somebody wanted to purchase the American League franchise that we currently own, wed certainly entertain offers, added Holland, who called Grand Rapids a tremendous hockey town and said his club put a lot of effort into getting the deal with the Griffins.

Holland, a former goaltender now in his 19th year with Detroit and his fifth as GM, did tell the Business Journal, though, that his team would go to Traverse City again for training camp in September. But he also said the club would spend some time here before next season begins.

We do want to have a presence here during training camp. It's something that we are currently discussing with Bob Sack and Bob McNamara to what degree we are going to be in Grand Rapids, he said.

But certainly we do want to be in Traverse City because its an outstanding situation and weve had incredible support there, and everybody in our organization loves their stay in Traverse City. Certainly, were going to be back there.

" align=right border=0>Detroits point man with the Griffins is Assistant General Manager Jim Nill, who is in his eighth year with the Wings and the fourth at his current post. Nill, a former Red Wings player who left a position with, ironically enough, the Ottawa Senators to join Detroit, directs the club's amateur scouting and player development. He also served as GM at Adirondack. Here, Nill will work closely with Griffins GM Bob McNamara.

I think its a lot like the Red Wings are built; its a winning tradition, said Nill of the Griffins. From day one, theyve had a winning tradition. Thats what fans want. Thats what hockey people want. And its a great city on top of that.

We want our hockey players in a good environment, and youre not going to get a better hockey environment than Grand Rapids.

If anyone should know hockey environments, it should be Nill. He has visited many, all over the globe. In fact, last week he traveled to Siberia to check out the local talent there.

I've got a nice warm trip planned; that'll be my winter break, he joked. I'm in charge of the scouting and Im at a game six nights a week, pretty much, and its all over the world.

With the Griffins firmly in place as their full primary affiliate, Holland said the Red Wings need to sign more young players, maybe even a few veteran minor leaguers. He added that his club would also continue its secondary affiliation with the Toledo Storm of the East Coast Hockey League.

That business relationship was interrupted for a few years when Detroit announced it was bringing its AHL franchise to a nearby suburb, a move that would have created stiff gate competition for the Storm. But after local officials couldnt put together the financing deal for a new arena, the Red Wings had to look elsewhere. Still, the team was able to resume its agreement with the Storm, a club that will provide talent to the Griffins.

Its a real good situation. We can put some young kids there, its an hour away and we want to have some depth. Not only do we need depth at the NHL level, but we also need some depth at the AHL level, said Holland.

Although the Griffins and Red Wings are delighted with their new partnership, neither side felt the deal came off exactly the way they wanted. Both had hoped to delay the announcement until the current season ended. But persistent rumors about a deal created a major distraction for everyone involved and made it impossible to hold back the news until then.

We just felt it was appropriate now to let everyone know, so that everyone knew what was happening for next season. Then we could all shift our focus back again to the current season and really begin the big push for the new affiliation after the current season has ended. The speculation gets to a point where it kind of takes over everything else, said Griffins COO Scott Gorsline. But the Red Wings were too much to pass up.       

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