OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Pro hockey will return to Oklahoma City starting next season - and at a higher level.
Representatives of Prodigal Hockey LLC and the NHL's Edmonton Oilers said Tuesday that Oklahoma City will be the home of the Oilers' now-dormant American Hockey League franchise. The Oilers will let their affiliation agreement with an AHL team in Springfield, Mass., expire at the end of this season.
The announcement culminated months of negotiations between Prodigal Hockey and the Oilers, who made at least three visits to Oklahoma City during the past two years. The team, which will play at the downtown Cox Convention Center, does not yet have a nickname.
The 29-team AHL is considered a Triple-A-level league. Oklahoma City hasn't had an upper-level minor league hockey franchise since the Oklahoma City Stars folded in 1982.
The Oklahoma City Blazers brought pro hockey back to the state's largest city in 1992, playing in the Central Hockey League.
The Blazers consistently ranked in the top 10 in attendance among North American minor league hockey franchises, leading the CHL in that category every year. Last season, the Blazers averaged 6,508 fans for 32 home games, but they folded last summer, citing "substantial losses" during the recession.
Bob Funk Jr., the president of Prodigal Hockey, is also president of Express Sports, which operated the Blazers.
In December, the Oklahoma City council unanimously voted to allow SMG, which manages the convention center, to enter into a lease agreement with Prodigal Hockey. The agreement includes a five-year lease and two, three-year renewal terms at the option of Prodigal Hockey. The team would play 40 regular-season home games.
As part of the lease agreement, the city will pay for about $4.5 million in improvements to the convention center, which opened in 1972. That money will pay for an ice plant and mechanical room, and other upgrades.