Knights leaving Omaha for Quad Cities

5/24/2007 - NHL Calgary Flames

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Calgary Flames will move their top farm club from Omaha to the Quad Cities of eastern Iowa and western Illinois, team president and CEO Ken King said Thursday.

The Knights of the American Hockey League played two seasons in Omaha and struggled in a market that already had Junior A and NCAA Division I teams. The Flames lost $4 million on their Omaha operation, according to a Flames memo obtained by the Omaha World-Herald last week.

The Flames' minor-league team will play in the MARK of the Quad Cities arena. The move is subject to approval by the AHL board of governors.

"There was a great number of relocation opportunities presented to our team in recent months," King said. "While consideration of these was not our priority, given our level of involvement in Omaha, in recent discussions it became evident to us that the Quad
Cities market, the MARK of the Quad Cities venue, the enthusiastic local ownership group and their existing fan base are ideally suited for our AHL franchise."

The Quad Cities area is composed of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Ill. The Quad Cities has been home to the United Hockey League's Quad City Mallards for 12 seasons, and the team led the league in attendance seven times.

Hockey was first introduced to Omaha in 1939, and one of the sport's greatest players, Gordie Howe, started his professional career here in 1947.

The first incarnation of the Knights played in Omaha off and on until 1975. The Junior A Lancers moved into the market in 1986, followed by the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks in 1997.

When the Flames placed a team here in 2005, Omaha became one of two non-NHL markets with three teams at the Junior A level or higher. Providence, R.I., is the other.

The Knights were 27th, and last, in AHL attendance in 2005-06 and were 25th this past season, when they averaged 3,543 a game.

The Mavericks were Omaha's top hockey draw last season at 5,579 a game. The Lancers averaged 2,925 a game.

The Flames said in March that they were committed to coming back to Omaha.

"Although our objective was to make the AHL viable in the Omaha market, it became evident in the face of mounting losses that the Calgary Flames felt it would be difficult to move forward," Knights president Ren Smith said.

The Knights won the AHL's West Division this past season but lost in the first round of the playoffs.