LACROSSE TRIBUNE ARTICLE BY JOEL BADZINSKI | Tuesday, March 2, 2010 11:46 pm
ONALASKA – The OmniCenter\’s main ice arena was dark and quiet Tuesday afternoon.
But Mark Motz was able to envision nights in the near future with 1,000-plus fans cheering loudly for junior hockey.
It was not a daydream. Motz, lead owner of the North American Hockey League\’s North Iowa Outlaws, signed a five-year lease with the city of Onalaska and the OmniCenter at a press conference Tuesday.
That officially brought the Outlaws to Onalaska, where they\’ll wear black, blue and white and play as the Coulee Region Chill beginning next fall.
\”I think we\’re pretty satisfied with everything that\’s come together,\” OmniCenter manager Tom Hammill said.
Motz and two business partners bought an NAHL (Junior A, Tier II) franchise 5½ years ago and first looked at Onalaska. The sides couldn\’t come to terms then because of ice availability, and Motz instead brought a team to Mason City, Iowa.
With the Outlaws\’ five-year lease expiring after this season and Motz wanting to move to the Coulee Region to be closer to his family, including a daughter, son, and their spouses and children, he revisited the OmniCenter, and talks got serious in early January.
Motz and OmniCenter representatives, led by Hammill and Onalaska Community Development Authority chairman Mike Gargaro, worked on the lease through late January and February. They agreed on terms of the lease Feb. 23.
The NAHL Board of Governors unanimously approved the Outlaws\’ move to Onalaska on Monday, and the final step was taken Tuesday with the signing of the lease.
\”This was really our first choice when we bought a franchise five years ago,\” Motz said. \”We\’ve been at Mason City for five years, and when we came back to talk about coming in again we were able to make the whole thing happen.\”
Key points of the lease:
n The team pays $500 for ice rental on game nights. There are 27 regular-season home games from September through March.
n A concessions profit split based on 55 percent to the OmniCenter and 45 percent to the team, although that percentage changes for special events, Hammill said.
n The five-year lease includes a review of terms after two years.
n The team will pay for any locker room renovations it wishes to make.
With the lease and team name in place, Outlaws/Chill general manager Rick Wesp said the team will start to work itself into the community throughout the spring and summer.
\”First, we\’ve got to finish our season (in Mason City); we\’re fighting for a playoff spot,\” Wesp said. \”After that, Mark will be moving in here, he\’ll be hiring people for the front office while we\’ll be constantly scouting and looking at kids.\”
The NAHL draft is held in late May. Teams hold a series of tryout camps throughout the summer and set rosters by Aug. 1.
Players are age 16-20 and are considered top amateur prospects who are showcasing themselves for college programs.
\”Our goal is the move \’em to the next level and the school they want to get to,\” Wesp said.
Wesp said Chill games will be an \”event\” with promotions happening between periods, similar to La Crosse Loggers baseball games in the summer.
\”We want to turn this into an event,\” Wesp said. \”There\’ll be good hockey, outstanding hockey on the ice, and we get the fans into it, also. It\’s going to be fun.\”
Onalaska native Jordan Tredinnick (Owatonna, Minn.) and Black River Falls\’ Matt Millis (Fairbanks, Ak.) are playing in the NAHL this season.
Three former area stars used the NAHL as a steppingstone to NCAA Division I rosters: Alex McRae (Army), Eriah Hayes (Minnesota State, Mankato) and Alex Gerke (Connecticut).
\”This is great; this is going to help hockey in the area,\” longtime area high school and former junior player Tim Franzini said. \”I think they\’ll draw pretty well. The pace of the game and the skill level are going to be unbelievable, and it\’s a great product they put on the ice.\”