Approval for the Sharks to place their top development affiliate in Worcester came from the AHL Board of Governor’s today, January 9th.
Lehr and Jamison made the announcement in conjunction with Worcester City Manager, Michael O’Brien, the DCU Center’s General Manager Sandy Dunn and American Hockey League President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews. Joining them for the announcement were San Jose Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson and Worcester General Manager (and Sharks Vice President and Assistant General Manager) Wayne Thomas.
“Locating this franchise in Worcester has many benefits, including a closer proximity to other AHL clubs, more favorable travel issues, a wealth of hockey fans and a building better suited to our business model,” said Lehr. “The success of our new franchise will be built on the partnership between the City of Worcester, the DCU Center and the Sharks.”
The Worcester Sharks will utilize the same colors of the NHL franchise (Deep Atlantic Teal, Gray, Burnt Orange and Black) and the current logo (the world-famous menacing Shark chomping through a hockey stick).
"The American Hockey League is thrilled to be returning to Worcester in October of 2006. I would like to congratulate all of the parties who have worked so hard to launch a new era of professional hockey at the DCU Center, in particular the City Manager, Mayor and City Council, SMG, the San Jose Sharks organization, and especially the passionate hockey fans in Worcester," said David Andrews, American Hockey League President and Chief Executive Officer. "The DCU Center will continue to be significantly enhanced for AHL hockey next season, and partnering with the San Jose Sharks, one of the premier organizations in the National Hockey League, ensures that Worcester will have an AHL club which the community can be proud of in every way."
The facility, which opened in 1982 and was renamed the DCU Center in October 2004 in a naming rights partnership with Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU), will be outfitted with a curtaining system to create an more exciting and intimate venue with a 6,500 seat capacity for hockey. In addition, the City of Worcester has committed to ongoing improvements to enhance the hockey experience.
"Worcester is officially Sharks territory," said City Manager Michael V. O'Brien. "I am more than thrilled that we are partnering with the San Jose Sharks, a premier NHL team, to be the development location for their AHL franchise. Our DCU Center will now host exciting, competitive professional hockey, completely family-friendly, with 33 of the 40 home games each season scheduled on weekends. This is tremendous for hockey fans and for the entire City."
Over the past decade, drafting and developing talent has been the hallmark of the Sharks, who opened the 2005-2006 NHL season with the league’s highest percentage of players on their roster who were developed within the system (nearly 70%). Current Russian Olympic and NHL All-Star netminder Evgeni Nabokov spent three seasons developing with the Sharks affiliate, as did Jonathan Cheechoo, who is on track to lead the San Jose Sharks in scoring for a second consecutive campaign.
While based in San Jose, the parent club realizes the importance of New England hockey, as one-third of the club’s player reserve list has New England ties. Current San Jose Sharks Niko Dimitrakos (Somerville, Mass.) and Jim Fahey (Milton, Mass. – Northeastern University) grew up in the area. Current AHL prospects Tom Cavanagh (Warwick, RI – Harvard), Josh Hennessy (Brockton, Mass.), Josh Prudden (Andover, Mass. – New Hampshire), Patrick Rissmiller (Belmont, Mass. – Holy Cross) and Garrett Stafford (New Hampshire) were raised or played collegiately in the area.
In addition, numerous Sharks prospects currently play in the area. They include P.J. Fenton (Springfield, Mass. – UMASS, Amherst), Michael Hutchins (Wolfebro, NH – New Hampshire), Carter Lee (Northeastern), David MacDonald (Harvard), Brian Mahoney-Wilson (Boston, Mass.), Torrey Mitchell
(Vermont), 2002 1st round selection Mike Morris (Dorchester, Mass. – Northeastern), Brian O’Hanley (Quincy, Mass. – Boston College), Dan Spang (Winchester, Mass. – Boston University) and Tom Walsh (Arlington, Mass. – Harvard).
The San Jose Sharks front office has heavy New England ties as well. Current Worcester Sharks General Manager Wayne Thomas has a permanent residence in East Falmouth, Mass. San Jose Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke proudly hails from Melrose, Mass., and still resides in the state and Professional Scout Cap Raeder, who grew up and still lives in Needham, Mass., played for the New England Whalers of the old World Hockey Association and was an All-American goaltender for the University of New Hampshire.
“We expect to bring a very exciting brand of hockey to Worcester,” said Jamison. “The Worcester Sharks will be very involved in the local community, we will partner with the local businesses and the fans and more importantly, we will provide area hockey fans with a product to be extremely proud of and one that will be easy to support.”
"Today, we're pleased to welcome the AHL back to the Heart of the Commonwealth," Mayor Timothy P. Murray said. "I believe it's a great testimony to the fans in Central Massachusetts who stepped up for the ticket drive, and it shows that leading organizations are ready to invest here because they see the potential in this market. Hockey has long been a part of the Worcester experience and we're excited about continuing that tradition."
Worcester, the second largest city in Massachusetts, population 176,000, is a center for higher education, medical and biotechnology research, as well as an important manufacturing, insurance, transportation and cultural hub located 45 miles west of Boston. The City is experiencing a resurgence with more than $1 billion in mostly privately financed economic development projects either underway or in an advanced stage of planning. Worcester is home to Holy Cross College, Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Assumption College, the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Worcester State College, Becker College, and Quinsigamond Community College and just outside the city, Anna Maria College. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park is the home of research facilities for numerous companies, and ground has just been broken on a new $250-million bio-medical research park.
The arrival of the Sharks to Worcester marks the triumphant return of the AHL to Worcester. “This has been an incredible team effort”, said Sandy Dunn, General Manager for the SMG managed DCU Center. “The vision of the City Manager and his staff, the support of our Mayor and City Council, the hard work of many committed business leaders on the season ticket pledge drive, the support of the AHL League Office, and, perhaps most importantly, the unwavering faith and tenaciousness of the Central Massachusetts hockey enthusiasts -- working pledge tables in local rinks; telemarketing former season ticket holders; providing creative input and ideas for the past two months -- must all be credited with this win. No one has ever lost faith that AHL would be back on the ice for the 2006-2007 season.”
Individuals who pledge for season tickets will have first priority for seat selection. The pledge drive will continue through the end of the month. Individuals and businesses are encouraged to pledge at www.worcesterhockey.com or by calling 508-929-0359 as soon as possible to ensure the best availability.
For more than two decades, the DCU Center has been recognized as the gathering place for people to experience the finest in entertainment, sporting events and public functions. Hailed as one of the most successful entertainment and convention facilities in the world, the DCU Center is owned by the City of Worcester and managed by SMG, the world leader in private management and development for public facilities. Headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, SMG controls over 1.4 million entertainment seats worldwide, and over nine million square feet of exhibit space.