Whalers beached

Plymouth Whalers franchise sold; moving to Flint

BY NICK MISIAK
SPORTS EDITOR

After 25 years of providing major junior hockey in the Metro Detroit area, the Plymouth Whalers are moving north to Flint. Whalers Governor Mike Vellucci announced on Jan. 14 that owner Peter Karmanos Jr. sold the Ontario Hockey League franchise to Rolf Nilsen, owner of the IMS Hockey Corporation.

PHOTO BY NATHAN GARTNER PHOTO EDITOR (From left) Mike Vellucci, Peter Karmanos Jr., Rolf Nilsen and Costa Papista answer questions from the media on Jan. 14 following the announcement that the Plymouth Whalers franchise had been sold by Karmanos to Nilsen, who intends to move the team to Flint following the 2014 15 season.

PHOTO BY NATHAN GARTNER
PHOTO EDITOR
(From left) Mike Vellucci, Peter Karmanos Jr., Rolf Nilsen and Costa Papista answer questions from the media on Jan. 14 following the announcement that the Plymouth Whalers franchise had been sold by Karmanos to Nilsen, who intends to move the team to Flint following the 2014 15 season.

“After 30 years of owning an OHL franchise, 25 of those years in the Metro Detroit area, Pete Karmanos has signed a purchasing agreement to sell the team to Ralf Nilsen” said Vellucci. “We would like to thank all of the season ticket holders, corporate sponsors, billet families, media, staff and all of the metropolitan Detroit fans for their support for the last 25 years and continued support for the rest of the season.”

The Whalers will play the remainder of the 2014-15 season at Compuware Arena. Plymouth has six home games remaining this season, including dollar beer night on Thursday, Feb. 26 against the Sarnia Sting, fan appreciation night on Saturday, March 7 against the Eastern Conference leading Oshawa Generals and a green out for the last Whalers home game ever on Saturday, March 21 against top prospect Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters.

The move comes after years of rumors that Karmanos was looking for buyers for the franchise. Cities such as Hamilton, ON and Chatham, ON were rumored to be possible landing places for the team, but Karmanos elected to sell the franchise to buyers who would keep the Whalers stateside.

Nilsen intends to move the team into the Pirani Arena and Events Center in Flint, a building that he recently acquired, for the 2015/2016 season. Nilson has a history with relocating an OHL franchise, as he was a key player in the relocation of the North Bay Centennials to Saginaw, MI in 2003.

Joining Nilson on the podium was Costa Papista, another catalyst in the Centennial’s move to the Tri-City area. Papista collaborated with politicians, OHL officials and members of the community to create a hockey atmosphere in Saginaw that still remains strong today. He will attempt to repeat his success in Flint, and having several teams relatively close to their new home will give the new team a few natural rivals.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” said Karmanos. “The best thing about this is that the OHL franchise stays in the states. Flint is an ideal location for an OHL team. They have a natural rival in the Saginaw team, as well as Sarnia just across the river and Windsor as well.”

The Whalers franchise began in 1989 when Karmanos was awarded a franchise in Detroit. The team then moved into Compuware Arena in Plymouth at the beginning of the 1996 season and have called it home ever since. They have made the playoffs for an OHL record 23 consecutive seasons and have won two OHL championships (1995 and 2007). There are currently 22 Plymouth alumni in the NHL this season, and over 100 Whalers have been selected in the NHL draft.

Tickets for the final remaining home games can be purchased by calling the Whalers Box Office at 734- 453-8400 or visiting www. plymouthwhalers.com.