Two years after the Skipjacks left town for Portland, Maine, hockey is returning to Baltimore.
Baltimore and Lexington, Ky., were awarded franchises yesterday by the American Hockey League, to begin play in the 1995-96 season.
As the Skipjacks did, the new Baltimore team will play at the 12,000-seat Baltimore Arena. The team has yet to decide on a nickname.
"We have made great strides in the realization of our strategic plan with the acceptance of these two cities," said AHL president Dave Andrews during a news conference in West Springfield, Mass. "Having set an all-time attendance record of over 3 million fans this season, we look forward to even greater successes in our upcoming 60th anniversary year.
"We anticipate the announcement of additional expansion franchises in early June, clearly solidifying our position as the premier player development league in North America," said Andrews.
Principal owners Robert Teck and Alan Gertner of New Jersey led the effort to bring a team here. They began work on the project last November, after visiting the Portland Pirates and former Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright. Frustrated by a small fan base and a lack of corporate support, Ebright moved the Skipjacks to Portland in 1993.
Last week, Andrews said the Baltimore franchise was close to working out an agreement to become an affiliate of an NHL team. Although he didn't name the team, sources indicated the Baltimore team could become a farm club of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
The city of Lexington has been granted a franchise subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions that are expected to be met in the coming weeks.
Walter Bush, former owner of the Minnesota North Stars and currently president of USA Hockey, will be the principal owner of the Lexington franchise. Other investors include former Boston Bruin and current ESPN hockey commentator Mike Milbury and Ron DeGregorio, managing partner of the PenFacs Group. The Lexington team will play at 23,000-seat Rupp Arena.