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Group negotiating to buy Watertown Privateers

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A group of businessmen has expressed interest in buying the financially struggling Watertown Privateers to keep the lower-level professional hockey team from possibly folding.

Local businessman Stanley H. Tibbles confirmed Friday afternoon that he and five others have been negotiating to purchase the Federal Hockey League’s Privateers from owners Nicole J. and Don Kirnan, who brought the Privateers to Watertown last year after the franchise played in Alexandria Bay for two seasons.

“We want to make sure to keep hockey in Watertown,” said Mr. Tibbles, who owns a local roofing company.

So far, the two sides have not been able to agree on a deal. The Kirnans could not be reached for comment Friday.

The negotiations come at a time when the future of the four-team Federal Hockey League remains in doubt and might depend on the luring of new teams into the league. The Privateers play at the city-owned ice arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.

Mr. Tibbles said the Privateers have been losing “substantial money” and at one point were on pace to lose $40,000 to $50,000 for the rest of the season. He said sale negotiations began in December and have been held up because the Kirnans want cash to be included. Mr. Tibbles said his group offered to take over the team and its debt but did not want any money to change hands.

He declined to name the other people in his group, saying that some want to be silent partners if the acquisition proceeds. They planned to meet Friday night to discuss the situation, Mr. Tibbles said.

“We’re a long way off,” he said, adding that initially the investors wanted to take control of the team before the season ends next month, but that appears less likely because negotiations have not been completed.

The possible sale of the Privateers comes at a time when the city is considering a nearly $8 million upgrade of the ice arena.

The investors also are being courted by a Palm Bay, Fla., man who would like the group to start a new team in Watertown and join his new league, the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League. But Mr. Tibbles said he and the other investors look at joining that league “as a fallback position,” if the Privateers and the Federal Hockey League fold.

North Atlantic League organizer Phil DeFranco confirmed he sent an email to Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner, who said Friday she expects the hockey situation to come up at the Watertown City Council meeting Monday night.

If both teams proceed with plans to play in Watertown, the city will be required to go through the bidding process, and council members will select which team would play at the Watertown Municipal Arena, she said.

As much as the Federal Hockey League’s future is in doubt, there are no guarantees that Mr. DeFranco’s league can be established, according to Mr. Tibbles. Mr. DeFranco said he hopes to put together a six-team “Single A” league that would feature a 50-game season and a three-week playoff setup. On March 16, he plans to announce the Berkshire Black Bears in North Adams, Mass., will become the first team in the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League.

The Privateers, who play a 56-game season, fired coach and general manager Brad Zangs on Feb. 20 after the team went through a nine-game losing streak. He was replaced by two Privateers players, Brent Clarke as the interim head coach and Kris McCarthy as general manager.

Mr. Tibbles said the Privateers are averaging 400 to 500 fans a game this season, and they need about 1,000 to break even.

He said his investment group isn’t in it for the money.

“We want to keep the team going and continue its development,” he said.

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