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Investor group plans to run hockey team in Watertown; Privateers in limbo

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WATERTOWN — A new professional hockey team could take to the ice at the Watertown Municipal Arena next season, possibly replacing the Privateers, city officials learned Tuesday night.

A group of local investors will be the only owners negotiating to operate a Federal Hockey League team at the ice rink at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, Erin E. Gardner, city superintendent of parks and recreation, told the City Council.

The group’s notification to the city came in a letter to the city on Monday.

“This letter is written as assurance to the city of Watertown of the serious intentions of the owners to maintain a professional hockey team in the area,” their attorney, Ann E. Phillips, wrote.

It was unclear whether the investors would take over the Privateers, the financially struggling team that has played the last two seasons in Watertown, or start a new franchise.

The group of investors include Stanley H. Tibbles, who owns a local roofing company; funeral home owner Cullen D. Lundy; Mark Webb of Brownville; Dr. Michael Wainberg, an orthopedic surgeon, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald London of Copenhagen and local dentist Dr. Vincent Casario Jr. and his wife.

The investors, who met with one another Tuesday night to discuss their plans, could not be reached for comment.

City officials welcomed the idea of working with local business owners who are hockey fans.

“I’m glad it’s working out,” Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said. “They seem enthusiastic. It’s not an easy racket to be in. God bless them.”

Mrs. Gardner said she was notified by Privateers owner and Federal Hockey League commissioner Don Kirnan, stating he decided not to submit a bid for a franchise agreement with the city because of the investor group’s interest.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Mr. Kirnan said the investors intend to join the Federal Hockey League either by taking over the Privateers or by starting a new franchise.

“That hasn’t been worked out,” he said, adding that no money would exchange hands if the Privateers were taken over.

The local investors previously had been negotiating to buy the Privateers.

Instead, the group may change the name of the team and it could consist of new players, Mr. Kirnan said. He declined to say what would happen to the Privateers if a new team is formed.

Mrs. Gardner said she spoke to local businessman Mr. Tibbles several times about forming the new team.

The investors filed paperwork with the state Department of State to form a company called Top Shelf Hockey LLC.

Mr. Tibbles and Dr. Wainberg would be the team’s managers, according to the letter.

With the Watertown franchise, the Federal Hockey League has owner commitments from six communities and may have as many as eight, Mr. Kirnan said.

Mrs. Gardner said that the North Atlantic Professional Hockey League will not submit a bid for a franchise in the city.

League officials, however, announced on Tuesday that a new team forming in Massena would join that league.

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