Austin is one step closer to landing junior hockey team

Published 7:36 am Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Junior hockey is on its way back to Austin — almost.

On Monday, city council approved a contract with Hudson, Wis., businessman Craig Patrick that will have him paying just more than $78,000 to rent Riverside Arena ice for the next two years with an option to extend. The city is responsible for $70,000 upfront in arena renovations as part of the deal as well.

However, one small piece of the equation didn’t pass Monday and still remains a slight hurdle in officially bringing a junior team to town for the first time since the Mavericks departed for Rochester in 1985.

Patrick has made it clear he wants to sell beer and wine coolers at games, but doing so would be a violation of a current city ordinance. A separate motion to revise the ordinance and accommodate Patrick’s request passed 5-2, but per Austin’s charter, the vote needed to be unanimous because it was the ordinance’s first reading.

The proposed change will now have to be brought up again at the next council meeting Feb. 16, where a simple majority vote will do.

Despite the small setback, Patrick was relieved and excited after Monday’s meeting.

“I’m just happy about it,” he said. “We’ll come back in two weeks and do the ordinance stuff.”

Because the alcohol issue still remains unresolved, Patrick said he’d be waiting until after Feb. 16 to start hiring team management and coaches. But once the process gets started, the owner said it’ll be a busy time.

“I’ll be here every week,” Patrick said.

Patrick also noted that city engineer Jon Erichson told him renovations to the arena, which will include expanding locker room space and upgrading the media area, will begin right away.

The owner said he will also get started as soon as possible on some renovations of his own, including new lighting and video screens.

Then there’s the chore of bringing in players. Patrick said he’ll aim to recruit Minnesota talent, and he’ll be very active in the upcoming North American Hockey League draft. When a roster is assembled, Patrick expects the team to start practicing in August.

The team will also need a name soon, something Patrick said he’d like to see come from the community through a naming contest. The owner has said he favors calling the team the Austin Bruins — a nod to a certain National Hockey League team from Boston — but he wants to remain open to all suggestions.

The Austin franchise would be in the NAHL’s central division, competing with the Albert Lea Thunder, the Alexandria Blizzard, the Bismarck Bobcats, the Owatonna Express and the North Iowa Outlaws, who will be moving to Wisconsin next season.