Phoenix to call ECHL franchise 'Roadrunners'

Updated: February 1, 2005, 9:53 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The downtown investment group that owns NBA, WNBA and Arena Football League teams in Phoenix added a hockey franchise Tuesday.

Suns Legacy Partners, which also operates the America West Arena where the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers play, resurrected a time-honored hockey name for its ECHL club -- the Phoenix Roadrunners.

At a news conference, co-owner Robert Sarver introduced former NHL star Claude Lemieux as the team president.

Sarver, the Suns' managing partner, said the Roadrunners would have filled a niche in the Phoenix sports scene regardless of the NHL lockout.

"Basketball is expensive -- it would be hard to get Shawn Marion to play for $500 a week at this point," Sarver said. "But this hockey is an opportunity, for a $10 or $12 ticket, where families with kids can come in and have a good time."

The franchise became available when its original owners were unable to put a deal together in the Chicago area. The league approved the sale to SLP on Jan. 26.

So far, the Roadrunners are nothing but a front office, but Lemieux said he planned to hire a coach-general manager within a few weeks to get ready for a season that begins in October.

"I have names, and I have one in particular that I'm pretty set on," he said.

Sarver and Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo acquired the rights to the name and logo from Alberta businessman Lyle Abraham. Lemieux said he hadn't decided whether to adopt the uniform style and silver-and-blue colors the Roadrunners wore during their last International Hockey League season in 1996-97.

The team has no NHL affiliation and will play its first season as an independent.

The obstructed-view seats which cost the Phoenix Coyotes millions in lost revenue at the arena from 1996-2003 will not be sold, and Colangelo said an average of 5,000 fans per game was the break-even point with average ticket price below $15.

Coupled with the move of the New Jersey franchise to Stockton, Calif., the Roadrunners will make 10 teams in the West Division of the former East Coast Hockey League.

Lemieux, 39, played the last of his 19 NHL seasons with Dallas in 2002-2003 but continued to reside in Phoenix. He said he had been interested in running a minor league team for 18 months, but wasn't sure what the situation would be until he met Suns president Bryan Colangelo last fall.

The ECHL's restrictions on older players -- designed to focus on development of strong NHL prospects -- interested him, Lemieux said, and he became convinced of the league's player quality after seeing a game in Las Vegas three weeks ago.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press