Once again, a major-junior hockey team is pulling out of the Greater Toronto Area.
The Brampton Battalion announced plans Tuesday to relocate to North Bay, for the start of the 2013-14 OHL season, ending a lengthy search to get out of the Toronto suburb where attendance has sunk below 2,000 fans a game in recent years.
“I’m pleased that we’ve reached an agreement-in-principle and look forward to the support of hockey fans in North Bay,” Battalion owner and founder Scott Abbott said in a statement on the team website. “The city has a rich hockey history, and we hope to add to it. There’s a long-standing association with the military in the community, and it will be a goal of ours to build a Memorial Cup championship team at Memorial Gardens.”
North Bay lost its OHL team in 2002, when it moved to Michigan and became the Saginaw Spirit – a shift in large part due to the Ontario city’s aging facility that will now get a $12-million facelift when the Battalion arrive.
The move is contingent on a successful season-ticket drive and OHL approval, but after how things have stalled in Brampton, that appears to be a formality.
Once the relocation goes through, the Battalion will be the second OHL team to leave the GTA in the last six years, after the Mississauga IceDogs left in 2007, and were replaced by the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (renamed the Mississauga Steelheads in 2012).
While Brampton (with a population of roughly 525,000) never drew particularly large crowds, the team was hailed as a success for the suburb when it began its expansion season in 1998. Abbott, well known as the co-inventor of the Trivial Pursuit board game, was inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, for bringing the team to town.
Now, the city’s loss will be North Bay’s gain.
“The return of OHL hockey is good for the city of North Bay,” Mayor Al McDonald said. “Being the home of the Battalion will not only contribute to the local economy, but it presents the opportunity to put North Bay in the spotlight and enhance our image.”