The United States Hockey League announced today that the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets have ceased operations for the 2008-09 season, ending the team's two-year run in Ohio's capitol city.
"Many people, from Tom Goebel and his ownership to others around the USHL worked tirelessly to find a location where this franchise could be a success. But with the timing and the lack of an adequate facility in potential new centers, it was decided that it was in everyone's best interests that the franchise cease operations," said USHL president Gino Gasparini.
The USHL Board of Governors approved the franchise going dark and also voted to transfer the returning veteran players on Ohio's protected list to the expansion Fargo Force. As a result, the expansion draft scheduled for May 13 has been cancelled. It is expected that 10-12 players will be a part of the transfer. Also with this agreement, Fargo will relinquish their picks in the first three rounds of the USHL Entry Draft, scheduled for May 14.
All players on the Ohio affiliate list will become free agents.
"As a league, we certainly appreciate the time, effort and hard work that Tom Goebel and his people put into making this team and the Columbus market a success. Unfortunately, without the support of the Columbus Blue Jackets we could not continue to have the team operate the way it was," said USHL board chairman Jim Kronschnabel. "The organization did a good job and put together a pretty good roster of talented players and we're happy that the ones that are returning to the USHL will have a home with Fargo."
The Junior Blue Jackets spent two seasons in Columbus, compiling a record of 39-68-13 and finishing in fifth place in the East Division each year. Their only playoff appearance came after the 2006-07 season, when they were eliminated in a four-game sweep by Cedar Rapids. Prior to their time in Ohio, the franchise skated as the Thunder Bay Flyers from 1984 to 2000.
With the expansion team entering in Fargo and the departure of Ohio, the USHL will remain a 12-team circuit for the 2008-09 season. The West Division will consist of Fargo, Lincoln, Nebraska, Omaha, Sioux City and Sioux Falls. The East Division will feature Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Des Moines, Green Bay, Indiana and Waterloo.
The USHL is America's only Tier I league and the premier path for developing players in America. The league has over 170 current players committed to Division I colleges and 19 players that have been selected in the NHL Draft. For more information on the USHL and its member teams, visit us on the web at www.ushl.com.
For us this was a message that deeply saddened us as we had the pleasure of getting to work with the Ohio Junior Bluejackets because of 2007 7th round pick Danny Hobbs. The folks that we got to work with were nothing but the best and it hurts us to know that today many of them are out of a job.
Most Ranger fans can not fathom the idea of a team folding their operations as we see all the time how franchises at the NHL level are sold for 100+ million dollars but the sad honest reality is that they are talking the NHL. The leagues below the NHL are a totally different world altogether and most operate on a "one day from failure" budget.
At the NHL level there have been teams filing for bankruptcy but the last team to fold up shop was the Cleveland Barons in 1978. For the most part NHL franchises still draw headlines when they are sold.
The Junior Bluejackets tried really they did as they had some good folks working there trying to make it work in Columbus but as the press release stated without the support of the NHL Bluejackets it became a lost cause.
We see these kinds of struggles to survive all the time at various levels of game, most are self-inflicted due to poor decision making by the ownership but for many it is because at the lower levels of the game they lack the deep pockets to sustain their franchise.
We are truly sorry to see the Junior Bluejackets fail as we got to enjoy the efforts their players were producing and had the ownership been able to survive for another season then the on-ice product would have been a rock solid good one.
It is going to be hard to embrace the Fargo expansion franchise as the Junior Bluejackets but we will wish them a ton of good luck.
It really sounds as if they are going to need it to survive.
Tomorrow we go back to playing with our crystal ball and talk Europeans who could become Ranger draft picks.