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Canadian Press
7/17/2006 7:34:30 PM

The group trying to get an Ontario Hockey League into Niagara Falls is working on getting an arena before it considers buying the Mississauga IceDogs from Eugene Melnyk.

Former NHL coach and player Steve Ludzik, Don Cherry, Ernie Coetzee and Terry O'Malley make up the group that is attempting to return major junior hockey to Niagara Falls, where an OHL team, the Thunder, operated from 1988 to 1996 before moving to Erie, Pa.

Melnyk, who also owns the NHL's Ottawa Senators, purchased the IceDogs last week with a view to flipping the team to new owners who will move it out of Mississauga.

Melnyk will then move his Toronto St. Michael's Majors into the Hershey Centre for the 2007-08 season.

Coetzee, a Mississauga lawyer, says while it's comforting to know there is a team on the market, his group has not made any overtures to Melnyk.

"We've had no formal discussions at all with Mr. Melnyk," Coetzee said Monday from Mississauga.

"It's a chicken-and-egg situation. You've got to get the building first and foremost, so there's no point in talking to anyone in the OHL. You won't get one without the other."

The City of Niagara Falls is planning to build a twin-pad arena with one 3,000-seat arena and a smaller rink with 500 seats. An OHL arena, however, would require at least 5,000 seats.

Coetzee says he expects to enter into intense negotiations with City of Niagara Falls staff this week and hopes to have a deal for city council to vote on within the next 30 days.

Cherry and Ludzik have previous connections with the IceDogs as Cherry was once part-owner and also managed and coached the team before it was sold in 2002. Ludzik coached the team in 2002-03.

Coetzee was president of the Toronto Roadrunners, the Edmonton Oilers' AHL franchise, for the one season it played out of Ricoh Coliseum in 2003-04.

St. Catharines city council turned down his group in its bid to put an OHL team there.

The OHL isn't currently interested in expansion, so buying a team is the only avenue in the foreseeable future for Coetzee's group.

But league commissioner David Branch has said the Niagara region is one area the OHL would like to go into along with upstate New York and a possible return to North Bay.

"I think the City of Niagara Falls is about as good a market as you can get for the OHL," Coetzee said. "It's growing by leaps and bounds from a business and population perspective. We think it's the ideal market for sure."
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