Suns' Colangelo almost certain NHL will soon include Phoenix

From staff and wire reports

PHOENIX Phoenix Suns president Jerry Colangelo said Tuesday he's ''90 percent'' certain that Phoenix will have an NHL franchise by next season and a decision could come by next week.

Colangelo, who is managing partner of baseball's expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, refused to name what NHL team would relocate here, although the Winnipeg Jets have been mentioned the most in recent rumors.

''There's been speculation that it's Winnipeg, but I'm not at liberty to say who it is,'' Colangelo said. ''Just suffice it to say we're in a position to make NHL hockey happen here.''

Colangelo said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, a former NBA executive, ''is a close friend and he believes strongly that we would be very successful with the NHL here.

''It's through his prodding that we're in a position where we're about to make a National Hockey League franchise a reality here,'' Colangelo added. ''I would say it's 90 percent sure that it's going to happen for next season.

''There is a Dec. 14 NHL Board of Governors meeting (in Florida) at which time it could become official. But our deal could be done within the next week.''

Jets owners Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern, who bought the team for $65 million, must have a playing site for next season in hand by next month's meeting.

Negotiations to move the Jets to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area reportedly have fallen through.

Arizona Icecats coach Leo Golembiewski said he is excited about the prospect of professional hockey coming to the desert.

"What can I say? Hockey is one of the loves of my life," Golembiewski said. "My people (around the NHL) told me that hockey in Phoenix was inevitable."

Golembiewski, who founded the Icecats 17 years ago, said he feels his team has helped increase the interest in hockey in the West.

"Tucson has a great fan base for hockey," he said. "We are the number three draw in all of college hockey."

The Icecats draw close to 100,000 fans per year for 20 home dates.

Golembiewski also said having a team in Phoenix would benefit the rising number of teams in the West. It would be much easier on a team to travel to Phoenix from such NHL cities as Dallas, Los Angeles, Denver and Anaheim, Calif., he said.

Colangelo said Phoenix's NHL team would play at the 3-year-old, $90 million America West Arena, which seats 19,000 for Suns games and has been the site of NHL out-of-venue and preseason games the past two seasons.

''Can hockey be successful here financially? I believe it can,'' Colangelo said. ''Forty-five home dates might mean another 60,000 people coming to the downtown area each season. That's tremendous for business.''

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