The roof fell in on the Roanoke Valley Rampage in Vinton, Va., last Saturday night -- literally, figuratively and perhaps even appropriately.
In its final East Coast Hockey League game of an abysmal season, the Rampage trailed the Richmond Renegades, 6-2, when play was stopped with 6:03 left in the second period. A beam supporting the roof of the LancerLot arena began to buckle under the stress of 16 inches of snow and 40 mph winds.
Within minutes, the decision was made to evacuate the building. All 63 paying customers who braved the blizzard went out into the night, along with players, coaches, officials and arena employees.
Four hours later, the roof collapsed over the deserted rink, ending a night, a season and an era for the Roanoke Valley team.
The Rampage, which finished the year with the worst record in the ECHL (14-49-1) and the lowest average attendance (1,484), is moving before next season, its owner says.
And now, your Baltimore Rampage?
It's possible. Larry Revo, owner of the Roanoke Valley franchise, said yesterday that he has had "very preliminary" discussions about a possible sale of the team to Tom Ebright, owner of the Skipjacks.
Ebright reportedly is in the final stages of a deal that will move the Skipjacks of the American Hockey League to Portland, Maine. He has said his plans are to replace the Skipjacks with a team from the ECHL and has identified the Knoxville Cherokees and the Rampage as possibilities. Ebright could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Roanoke and Knoxville represent the dregs of the ECHL. The Rampage finished last in the Eastern Division, and the Cherokees (19-39-6) were last in the West, with an average attendance of 2,129 -- ahead only of Roanoke Valley. There is speculation both teams may move.
While saying he won't return to Roanoke next year, Revo played down negotiations with Ebright. Asked whether he would likely sell the team to Ebright, Revo said: "It's unlikely I'd sell it, period. But it's not something I haven't done in the past."
Revo has a history of buying and selling minor-league franchises. He said he has owned baseball teams in Kinston, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Pittsfield, Mass., and Miami. He purchased the Rampage last summer from Henry Brabham -- the founding father of the ECHL -- for $250,000. At least two expansion franchises will join the ECHL next season at a cost of $500,000 each.
One relocation site Revo has entertained is Huntsville, Ala. Also negotiating with Huntsville is Dr. John Staley Jr., principal owner of the Knoxville franchise. Staley, who reportedly rejected an offer of $500,000 to sell his team, did not return a call to his medical office in Tennessee. But ECHL commissioner Pat Kelly said he expects Knoxville to field a team next season.
"I think Knoxville will be in the league next year," Kelly said. "Roanoke, I don't know."
Al Rakvin, vice president for marketing for the Skipjacks, thinks the ECHL is a better fit in Baltimore than the developmental AHL.
"Baltimore's not interested in developmental hockey," Rakvin said. "It's not the style the fans want to see. In the ECHL, players would belong to Baltimore and be here the year-round. It's more physical hockey, but not goon hockey. I don't think attendance would drop off. It may increase, in fact. The reason it [the ECHL] can work is you don't need more support than we're getting now."
Not everyone shares that optimism, however. Gary Handleman, vice president for facilities at Center Management, which operates the Arena, is not sure Baltimore would do better in the ECHL.
"I think given the right circumstances -- perhaps if the team has a local flavor -- maybe they can make a go of it," Handleman said. "But I'm not positive the overall fan base is here to support an AHL or ECHL team."
Meanwhile, Revo has few answers for what will happen to his worn-out Rampage.
"Listen," he said yesterday as he sifted through the rubble of LancerLot, "I've got to cut this off. The fire marshal is telling me to get out of here."