Bucks fans, the wait is over.
Majority owner Glenn Hart is hosting a town hall style forum with season ticket holders and corporate sponsors tonight at the Laredo Energy Arena.
Hart is expected to announce his intentions for the future of his franchise.
When Hart last spoke to the media in late March, it was to say he was no longer considering turning the Bucks into a junior hockey franchise.
He said the Bucks would remain a professional hockey team.
He said there would be hockey in Laredo this fall.
Those criteria left a handful of options on the table, one of which Hart could announce as the future home of the Bucks tonight.
First up to bat is the Central Hockey League.
Bucks fans know the CHL well by now; the Bucks have been members of it since the club’s founding days nine years ago.
It is also a league that has gone through a number of changes over those years.
Many teams have come and gone from the league; as recently as last summer the CHL merged with the now defunct International Hockey League, but the more important development of the past decade has been the entrance of the Professional Hockey Players Association.
The PHPA is a players’ union that Hart, on one occasion, attributed as a cause behind the rising costs of operations within the league.
Financial concerns about the league are the primary cause behind the Bucks casting their eyes elsewhere this spring.
If the costs of operating within the CHL could be negotiated to more manageable levels, the Bucks very well may decide not to go anywhere at all.
Four other professional hockey leagues operate in North America apart from the CHL.
Two of these leagues would be considered a step up the pecking order: the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League.
The NHL has only been mentioned as an option in jest; for all intents and purposes, it’s off the table.
The American Hockey League is mostly centered in the American northeast in Canada, though there are three outlying Texas members: the San Antonio Rampage, the Austin Stars and the Houston Aeros.
Ironically enough, Bucks President/Head Coach Terry Ruskowski has been spending his offseason helping coach the Houston Aeros’ reserves as the team makes its run in the AHL playoffs.
Ruskowski once played for the Aeros when they belonged to the now defunct World Hockey Association and later served as their head coach for two seasons in the 90’s.
If the AHL is a serious option, the city of Austin may serve as a model of sorts for a potential move.
Austin once hosted a CHL team, the Austin Icebats, only for the Icebats to close their doors and be replaced by the AHL’s Austin Stars within the past decade.
The final two options would be considered horizontal maneuvers and operate at roughly the same level as the CHL.
These options are the East Coast Hockey League and the Southern Professional Hockey League.
A move to the ECHL would more likely exacerbate the Bucks’ problems than solve them.
The league primarily operates on the East coast but also has six outliers operating on the west coast.
None of the league’s teams are within 1,000 miles of Laredo (the closest, in Georgia, is 1,138 miles away by car).
In addition to the issue of distance, PHPA executive director Larry Landon said in March that the operational costs of an ECHL team are higher than those of a CHL program.
That leaves the SPHL.
The SPHL is the newest league on the market, having been founded in 2004, and hosts eight teams across the southeast in an imprint that roughly mirrors college football’s SEC.
The greatest allure of the SPHL, however, is that it is the lone professional hockey league that doesn’t belong to the PHPA.
If avoiding the costs of the PHPA are the top priority, and renegotiation of those costs is not an option, the SPHL may be the most attractive option on the table.
Ruskowski is expected to fly into Laredo from Houston to make an appearance at tonight’s town hall meeting.
Though Ruskowski holds the title of “head coach for life,” neither he nor Hart have commented on whether he will return to coach the Bucks this coming season.
His anticipated appearance tonight is an encouraging sign for those who hope Ruskowski will return for another season.
A return by Ruskowski to the helm would also serve as a symbolic stamp of approval on whatever league Hart chooses to affiliate the Bucks with.
It’s an endorsement Hart would love to have for, as he said in March, “This (move) is going to be the one that’s going to last for years.”
NOTE: an official announcement is expected tonight. Keep an eye on my twitter, LMT_Kenny, for the latest from tonight’s meeting.