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Forming of Fargo Force broke rules, Jets say

A lawyer representing the Fargo-Moorhead Jets sent a letter Monday to the three top officials of USA Hockey, charging that the umbrella group governing junior hockey failed to follow its own rules in allowing the Fargo Force to be formed.

A lawyer representing the Fargo-Moorhead Jets sent a letter Monday to the three top officials of USA Hockey, charging that the umbrella group governing junior hockey failed to follow its own rules in allowing the Fargo Force to be formed.

The letter, signed by Steven Opheim of the St. Paul law firm Dudley and Smith, charges that FM Junior A Hockey LLC, which operates the North American Hockey League's Fargo-Moorhead Jets, has lost fans and revenue, has been unable to sign players and that current players are uncertain about the future of the franchise.

"We formally challenge the action of USA Hockey, Inc. and request investigation and resolution of this matter in accordance with the Bylaws," Opheim wrote.

The letter was sent in response to two letters sent by USA Hockey Vice President Daniel Esdale on that body's decision to allow the Force, a new United States Hockey League franchise owned by developer Ace Brandt, to begin operations.

The team is preparing to open the 2008-09 hockey season next fall in the Urban Plains Center in south Fargo.

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Among the objections of FM Junior A Hockey and the Jets enumerated by Opheim are:

- New members must notify USA Hockey at the annual congress a year in advance of the day the team would be ready to compete, according to its rules and regulations. Opheim said the annual meeting's minutes include no statement of notification and communications in Esdale's letters don't comply with USA Hockey rules.

- The Force was not certified and approved by USA Hockey, yet the team was allowed to participate in the October futures draft.

- USA Hockey hasn't protected the F-M Jets by allowing another team in Fargo.

- That USA Hockey allowed the Force, a team from another league, to encroach on the F-M Jets' territory, even though affiliated leagues have territorial restrictions in their governing documents.

"We want a determination of the status of the team," said Randy Nielsen, co-owner of the Jets.

"It's in their (USA Hockey's) hands," he said Monday evening. It will likely be a couple of weeks before USA Hockey replies, he said.

The Jets have reported an average of 690 fans through 14 home games this season, ranking them 15th in the 18-team league.

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In the 2006-07 season, the Jets recorded a franchise-high 986 fans per game average, drawing 30,566 fans for 31 home games. That more than doubled the Jets' average in 2003-04, when the team drew an average of 450 fans per game.

The $25 million Urban Plains Center main arena is now under construction in south Fargo.

The Park Board voted 5-0 Monday to back a resolution saying the Park District would accept the facility as a gift if it is fully completed next fall as planned.

Efforts to reach Esdale, as well as USA Hockey President Ronald DeGregorio and Executive Director David Ogrean, on Monday were unsuccessful.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Forum columnist Mike McFeely contributed to this article. Forming of Fargo Force broke rules, Jets say Helmut Schmidt 20071127

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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