After being entangled in legal problems with Roller Hockey International, the Buffalo Stampede apparently is back on track, ready to defend the championship it captured in its first season in the league last summer.
The Stampede's future looked cloudy last fall when the RHI suspended the franchise for non-payment of league fees.
Principal owner Mark Sander of San Diego and other owners still have a lawsuit pending in a U.S. District Court against the RHI and former team officials over the way the franchise's business affairs were conducted last year.
Even though the legal wars aren't over, the Stampede is back as a full-fledged RHI member.
The team announced a schedule for the 1995 season, has secured an Aud lease, a practice site, a new coach and a roster of players.
Dan Wilkins, the team's new general manager, has been busy attempting to re-establish the team's credibility in the local business community and within the RHI.
"I've been busy trying to put out all the fires and trying to get people to hang on," said Wilkins, who added that the Stampede has either cleared up its unpaid bills or has made arrangements to satisfy its creditors.
The Stampede will play a 24-game schedule. All games are against Eastern Conference teams.
Buffalo's schedule includes 12 home games at Memorial Auditorium. The season kicks off June 2 at New Jersey, with the home-opener June 5, also against New Jersey.
Six of the home games will be in June. The Stampede must play 10 of its last 14 on the road.
Playoff MVP John Vecchiarelli, the Stampede's leading scorer last season, takes over the coaching reins from the departed Chris McSorley, who is among those being sued by Sanders and his associates.
Vecchiarelli will continue to play, but the team may add a bench coach to assist the star center.
All of the other players from the 1994 championship team have been placed on the team's protected list.
They include goalie Nick Vitucci, Chris Bergeron, John Blessman, Jason Cirone, Rick Corriveau, John Hendry, Alex Hicks, Dave Lemay, Mark Major, Craig Martin, Jay Neal, Tom Nemeth, Dale Reinig and Len Soccio.
The Stampede already has one impressive addition to the roster: high-scoring Scott Burfoot, who played last season with the Pittsburgh Phantoms. Burfoot scored 23 goals and 54 points for the Phantoms, one of the four franchises not returning to the Eastern Conference this year. He was signed as a free agent.
Buffalo also selected eight players in the RHI draft, including Rob Ray of the Buffalo Sabres.
All of the Stampede players were busy in ice hockey over the winter. Martin put in a brief stint with the Winnipeg Jets after beginning the season in the Detroit Red Wings organization. Nemeth is playing with the Buffalo Sabres' Rochester affiliate in the American Hockey League.
Besides Pittsburgh, other missing franchises in the Eastern Conference are New England, Florida and Tampa Bay. RHI has two new Eastern locations, the Detroit Motor City Mustangs and the Orlando Wizards, for a net loss of two teams in the East. The Orlando team was shifted from Edmonton, which played in the Western Division last year.
Vecchiarelli, who is playing ice hockey in Germany, will open training camp May 1 at the Mil-Sher Hockey Rink, 1520 Military Road in Kenmore. The club's offices are located there and season ticket sales are being handled from that location. Individual game tickets will go on sale April 1 at Prime Seats locations in the United States and Canada.
The Stampede will have two days of open tryouts May 5-6.
BUFFALO STAMPEDE 1995 SCHEDULE
JUNE JULY AUGUST
2 at New Jersey 2 St. Louis 3 at Orlando
5 New Jersey 6 Chicago 5 St. Louis
7 Montreal 8 at St. Louis 6 at Detroit
12 Detroit 11 at Minnesota 8 Minnesota
14 Philadelphia 13 Detroit 10 at Chicago
21 Orlando 17 Minnesota 11 at St. Louis
23 Chicago 21 at Detroit
28 at Minnesota 22 at Chicago
25 at Philadelphia
31 at Montreal
All home games start at 7:35 p.m.