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AHL approves sale of Amerks to Sabres

It just makes too much sense. Two hockey cities -- one an NHL town, the other an AHL city -- separated by just 70 miles are supposed to be together.

Once again, they are.

The Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans, who were affiliated for 29 years before breaking up in 2008, are back together. Terry Pegula added to his ownership portfolio Friday, signing a purchase agreement for the Amerks, who will again be the Sabres' affiliate.

The American Hockey League board of governors unanimously approved the sale, which needs to close. The purchase price is in the neighborhood of $5 million, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

"The Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres have a rich history together, and reuniting these two outstanding franchises is great news for hockey fans in Western New York," AHL President David Andrews said.

Pegula and his management team looked at all aspects of the organization before buying the Sabres. They decided it would benefit them to have their minor-league base just down the Thruway. They intensified their purchase attempt in mid-May, and it happened Friday.

The Sabres will hold an introductory news conference in Rochester next week.

Team president Ted Black declined comment Friday night at the NHL Entry Draft.

"Since we've been here, we never, ever hung out the 'For Sale' sign," Amerks President Lewis Staats told the Rochester newspaper. "Someone from their ownership group asked me directly if we were interested in selling. I passed that on to Curt [Amerks owner Curt Styres] and it went from there."

Sabres founders Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup Knox bought the Amerks in 1979-80. They sold the team to a Rochester-based group in 1995. Previous Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano tried to buy the Amerks in the mid-2000s. After being rebuffed, the Sabres moved their minor-league team to Portland beginning with the 2008-09 season.

The relationship was good, so much so that the Sabres signed a long-term extension to remain in Portland in March 2010. Obviously, they have worked their way out of the deal, with the Democrat and Chronicle reporting the Sabres paid the Pirates in excess of $100,000.

The Pirates were OK with losing the Sabres as long as they had a new affiliate in place, Pirates managing partner Brian Petrovek told reporters in Portland. They will hold a news conference Monday to announce a new partnership, reportedly with Phoenix.

"We're very happy to have been in a position to allow Buffalo to do what it wanted to do under new ownership," Petrovek said, "to take its player development program in a different direction, to expand its marketplace to where it was once with a very successful long-term relationship in Rochester and to welcome the Buffalo Sabres as a new member of our league [as a team owner]."

Rochester has struggled with attendance since the Sabres left. The Amerks ranked just 25th in the AHL last season with an average of 3,872. They were sixth during the Sabres' final season of 2007-08, averaging 6,835.

The hope in Rochester is that reuniting with the longtime parent will rekindle interest. The hope in Buffalo is that the merger creates even more regional passion in Sabreland.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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