‘Official’ word on Niagara IceDogs’ sale seems imminent


Published May 5, 2022 at 7:57 pm

(Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

Getting a clear answer about future investors in the Niagara IceDogs, St. Catharines’ hockey team, is just a matter of when.

There have been multiple reports over the last week that a group led by Darren DeDobbelaer, a well-known promoter and proprietor of the puck-chasing arts in southwest Ontario, is close to receiving Ontario Hockey League approval to purchase the club from Bill and Denise Burke. The Burke family have operated the IceDogs over their 15 years in Niagara Region. However, speculation about a sale started soon after their sons Billy Burke and Joey Burke received two-year bans from the OHL last month.

Earlier this week, Ian Kennedy, a contributor with The Hockey News, said an “official” announcement of sale to a “Brantford-based group” could be made on Friday (May 6). DeDobbelaer is the proprietor of two teams in Brantford — the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s 99ers and the Bandits of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Informed sources also indicated to inNiagara that the reports are accurate.

DeDobbelaer, who hails from Langton, Ont., which is in the western corner of Norfolk County near Tillsonburg, built his nest egg in the insurance industry. He has a long involvement with junior hockey in the region, starting out with local teams such as the Delhi Travellers and Simcoe Storm before investing energy and equity into teams in nearby Brantford.

In 2018, DeDobbelaer expressed interest in perhaps buying the Mississauga Steelheads franchise, which has long struggled to build a fanbase in Peel Region.

‘Dogs on a 20-year lease

Whatever might happen, it is highly unlikely that a sale of the IceDogs would involve relocation. The team is in less than halfway through a 20-year arena lease that runs until 2034.

The last two OHL relocations within Ontario both came after a team’s lease expired. That was the case in 2015 when Michael Andlauer purchased the Belleville Bulls franchise and moved it to Hamilton, where it became the Bulldogs. Likewise, the now-North Bay Battalion finished up a 15-year lease in Brampton before moving in 2013.

The Meridian Centre is also one of the more modern venues in the OHL and has a capacity of 5,300 that includes club seats and suites. The terms of the IceDogs’ original lease called for the organization and the city to split cash from club seats, concessions, suites and in-house ads 50-50, with the city also getting 10 per cent of the gross on ticket sales, plus a surcharge.

The main rink in Brantford, the Civic Centre, holds 2,952 spectators.

The suspensions handed down to the two younger Burkes, on April 6, along with a $150,000 fine split between the Burkes and the IceDogs, were a consequence for homophobic and misogynistic comments that Billy Burke (head coach at the time) and Joey Burke (general manager) made on a WhatsApp coaching group chat. Screenshots of the remarks were shared on social media the next day, April 7, after the Burkes offered an apology.

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