TRAVERSE CITY — A Junior A hockey team may be coming to Traverse City after all.
The Midwest Junior Hockey League is in the process of relocating the Hartland Hounds to Traverse City for the 2013-14 season.
Team co-owner and league commissioner Scott Gardiner said he’s moving the Hounds to Traverse City and will keep the nickname. Last year, Gardiner also hoped to have a team in TC called the Cohos, but that didn’t end up working out as the first-year team didn’t have sufficient time before the season to sign enough players.
“We’ve been talking with the rinks down here, between Hartland and Brighton,” Gardiner said. “It came down to ice time and being able to accommodate us as far as a locker room. Last year we did not have one, and this year they were assuring us we’d get one. Now, they’re kind of backpedaling. So we thought, ‘You know what, Traverse City wants us. Let’s go where we’re wanted.’ We really want to be there. I think it’ll be a good fit.”
Gardiner said he and co-owner Randy Montrose will decide on a coach in the next two weeks.
“We’re just at the beginning stages of this,” Centre ICE director Terry Marchand said. “Obviously, it’s a great venue for them. And it’d be some nice ice time for us. We’re hoping it’s going to happen, but we’ll see if everything works out. I don’t want to get too excited until we know it’s going to happen. We were pretty much set on it last fall, and then it just fell apart.”
Gardiner said he hopes having four teams in northern Michigan — and all of the league but one franchise in Bloomington, Ind., residing within the state — will help the bottom line.
The former Rhinelander, Wis., franchise is moving to Alpena and will be known as the Street Cats and the expansion Marquette Royales were announced May 11.
“I’ve been thinking of this for years — having Marquette, Alpena, the Soo and Traverse City,” Gardiner said. “We’ve never had all four at once. ... It’s just going to be great for rivalries and it’s going to help us as far as our travel costs and budgets.”
The Michigan Grrrowl and Dayton Aeros folded after last year after finishing eighth and 10th, respectively, in the 10-team MWJHL.
The Hounds had four Traverse City-area players last season — forwards Tyler Thirlby, Cam Fisher and Alex Grizzel and defenseman Scott Luca — although they are not required to stay with the team, and may have opportunities at other leagues such as the North American Hockey League.
Gardiner — a part-time Traverse City resident who has previously coached the TC Enforcers, TC North Stars and Bay Reps — said he hopes to sign players after the league’s meetings on June 1.
“I feel like we’ve got the best of both worlds,” Gardiner said, “a successful organization moving to what I think is the best Junior venue in Michigan.”
The Hounds were 47-0-1 in MWJHL play last season, and 52-3-1 overall when counting results from the team’s trip to nationals, where they lost to eventual champion Idaho in the semifinals.
“We were by far the youngest team at nationals,” said Gardiner, who expects about half the squad to return. “The Idaho Steelheads had 16 20-year-olds — and we had one.”
Hartland averaged just 110 fans a game in 24 home dates last season, although Gardiner estimated an exhibition played in Traverse City drew around 400. The Hounds topped the Soo Firehawks 7-1.
“Neither team was a Traverse City team, so I thought it went well,” Gardiner said. “Our guys were really excited to play in front of a crowd, whereas in Hartland we didn’t have much of a crowd.”
The season will start either the first weekend of October or the last weekend of September, with a schedule of 44 to 48 games.