By Keith Jarrett
Citizen Times Staff Writer
ASHEVILLE - The Asheville Aces are up and running in their quest to become a minor-league hockey team.
The Aces, who are scheduled to begin play at the Asheville Civic Center this fall as part of the World Hockey Association2, introduced their first coach and general manager at a news conference Tuesday.
Former NHL player Jeff Brubaker will direct the Aces, who have signed a three-year lease agreement with the city and are expected to pay a nonrefundable, one-year deposit of $60,000 by the end of the week.
"We'll be a hard-hitting, hustling team," said Brubaker, who played with nine NHL teams in an eight-year career (1979- 89) and posted a 362-324 record (.530) in 11 seasons as a head coach in the minor leagues.
WHA2 founder David Waronker, a Florida real estate developer who owns at least part of five of the six teams in the first-year league, is the sole owner of the Asheville franchise.
"On paper, I'm the owner, but an ownership group is being formed, and I will have no ownership of the team by the time the puck drops in the fall," Waronker said.
Waronker said no local people will have a financial stake in ownership.
Brubaker said the Aces have sold about 75 season tickets (prices range from $215 to $725 for a 30-game home schedule from late October through March). Single-game tickets will range from $8 to $25.
"As soon as I heard this team was coming, I bought tickets," said hockey fan Mike Petruzziello, a Boston native who lives in Asheville and was the first person to buy season tickets.
"I think hockey is going to do better than the last time it was here. People know the game better now and we've missed it."
The Aces have opened an office in the Civic Center and can be reached at 350-7777.
"Early on, we are going to concentrate on season-ticket sales, but we only have eight months until we play a game," Brubaker said.
"We've got a lot of work to do to form a team, but right now our season-ticket base is critical. We're going to get out in the community and shake a lot of hands."
The team's per-game rent is based on a sliding scale based on attendance - the high end is $9,275 a game for 749 fans or less, the low end $1,525 per game for crowds in excess of 3,500.
The lease also includes a provision for an aged cooling tower on the roof of the Civic Center.
"The City has advised and (the team) acknowledges that said cooling tower is no longer a reliable piece of equipment, and that, to the extent that it functions at all, it could be irreparably nonfunctional at any time without warning," the lease reads.
The agreement states that any repairs of the cooling tower that total more than $2,500 must be paid by the team, and that the city can terminate the agreement if it chooses not to repair or replace the tower.
"That concerns me," Waronker said. "You would think that the building would be responsible for providing the infrastructure with which to put the team on the ice. But to get this deal we had to agree to this condition."
The Aces will be the first hockey team in Asheville since the Smoke left in 2002 after a four-year stay when owner Dan Wilhelm filed for bankruptcy.
"That was then, this is now," Brubaker said. "We will not run up debt. We will pay as we go and we'll be solid corporate citizens."
Web posted on Mar. 9, 2004