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Ice Edge Holdings may be out of the running for the Phoenix Coyotes, but the group is still interested in buying a professional sports franchise and has already been approached by a few teams.

"I can say that from our standpoint, as Ice Edge Holdings, we certainly have been bitten by the bug of the excitement of owning an [NHL]franchise," said Anthony LeBlanc, a former Research In Motion Ltd. executive who co-founded Ice Edge. "We're all extreme hockey fans. We certainly have the desire to be involved in some manner with a professional sports franchise."

LeBlanc said Ice Edge, which is made up of eight Canadian and U.S. businessmen, has been approached by investment bankers working for a handful of NHL teams and one English Premier League soccer team. He declined to identify the clubs, but a source said one suitor was the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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"I wouldn't say that we're actively looking at other NHL franchises [and]I don't know if we would," LeBlanc said. "I am sure based on what we've gone through we would certainly explore it if something came up."

For now, Ice Edge plans to focus on buying an AHL franchise and relocating it to Thunder Bay, where LeBlanc grew up. The group is also working with Thunder Bay officials on a plan to build a 7,000-seat arena for about $100-million.

LeBlanc said AHL officials have welcomed the idea. "Basically the league will be in touch with us when they know of a franchise that's on the market and they've indicated that it wouldn't surprise them to see one on the market in the next six to 12 months," he said.

LeBlanc said Ice Edge's offer for the Coyotes, which was about $150-million (remaining currency U.S.), was fully financed, supported by several Coyotes' creditors and close to completion. "We just didn't have enough time to really finalize an appropriate [arena]lease to make us and our investors feel comfortable with moving forward," he said. Ice Edge could still offer to buy the club from the NHL if the league wins today's auction.

During yesterday's court hearing, Shep Goldfein, a lawyer representing the NHL, said Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky was involved with Ice Edge and planned to cut his annual salary to $2-million from $8-million if the group bought the Coyotes. Goldfein also suggested the co-owners of the Toronto Argonauts, Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, were involved with Ice Edge.

LeBlanc declined to comment. Ice Edge has said before that it planned to work with Gretzky, and sources said Sokolowski and Cynamon were approached to join Ice Edge but did not.

LeBlanc said he knows many observers never took Ice Edge seriously, nor its plans to play some Coyotes games in Saskatoon. "People have the right to their own opinions. But we think that we showed that we're a real group and if we had a little more time we would have been at the auction."

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He added the group remains convinced hockey can work in Phoenix.

LeBlanc wouldn't predict who will win today's auction. When asked if his former boss at RIM has a chance, LeBlanc replied: "Jim's a wonderful guy and I wish him all the best of luck. We'll see where things end up for him."

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