The Empire State Cobras, searching for a new home after one financially disastrous Roller Hockey International season in Glens Falls, have landed in Marine Midland Arena as the Buffalo Wings.
"We have signed a letter of intent for one season," general manager Rick Seeley said at a news conference Thursday. "We are working on the fine details."
The team will play 24 games beginning in June, with the 12 home dates being held on Thursday through Sunday nights. An effort is being made, according to team CEO Jason Klein, to avoid conflicts with the Buffalo Bisons.
"We had a very successful season last year," coach Murray Eaves said. "The only thing missing was the fans."
The Cobras won the Atlantic Division of RHI's Eastern Conference in 1996 and a first-round playoff series, but averaged only 700 fans in the Glens Falls Civic Center and piled up debts. This led owner Jerry Shorthouse to sell home-arena advantage to the Orlando Jackals, who then won a best-of-three series en route to the league championship.
The team was purchased by KE Sports Enterprises, of which Dr. Frances Ann Edmonston, a San Francisco obstetrician, is president. Klein, a Syracuse stockbroker who is married to the daughter of Lockport mayor Ken Swan, is also vice president of KE Sports Enterprises. Klein said there are also some local investors, but would not identify them.
This group assumed the Cobras' debts and paid them off, Klein said. This was corroborated by Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn, who said the ownership group was investigated for its financial stability, as would any prospective Arena tenant.
Seeley said Buffalo was chosen for the franchise because of its record of supporting other teams -- he named the Bandits of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and the Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League -- and because of the Arena.
Buffalo has had a team in RHI before; the champion Stampede in 1994 that drew an average of 6,392 to Memorial Auditorium and a foundering team in 1995 that attracted just 2,000 per game.
Seeley said the performance of the previous team (Klein said none of the Stampede's owners is involved with the Wings) was one obstacle the Wings would have to overcome to reach its modest target of 5,000 fans per game.
"We can't expect crowds to just show up," he said. "We have to earn their respect."
The team has 20 players on its protected list, including former Stampede goalie Nick Vitucci and forward Mark Major, who has played two games this season with the Detroit Red Wings. A draft will be held in February.
All regular-season games will be played against Eastern Conference teams, of which there are expected to be nine.