The Houston Aeros, it now seems assured, will not get to celebrate their 20th anniversary of being the only hockey game in town.
The Minnesota Star-Tribune, which covers the Aeros' parent team, the Minnesota Wild, reported today that Wild officials have all but ended negotiations with the Toyota Center and are ready to move the team to Des Moines.
"During an American Hockey League Board of Governors conference call Thursday, the Wild will officially seek approval to relocate the Houston Aeros to Des Moines, Iowa, next season," the paper reported. "If approved, as expected, the Wild will rename the team the Iowa Wild and host a news conference in Des Moines on Monday."
Nothing says "Wild" like Iowa. Especially Des Moines, the city that never sleeps (as Iowa defines "sleeping," of course).
The Aeros have never been the biggest of draws in Houston despite being relatively successful. The Toyota Center (i.e., Rockets owner Les Alexander) thinks it can do better bringing in concerts that are now blocked by the Aeros.
While relatively few in number, Aeros fans are rabid and entertaining, and the team has traditionally put a good product on the ice. They play in the AHL, which is one step below the National Hockey League.
Alexander and the Toyota Center might try to revive talk of getting an NHL team to move here, but that seems unlikely to be successful at this time.
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So, no hockey next year for Houston. As we noted when we profiled two Aeros players, it's long been a tough sell here, but the team was drawing enough fans to keep the Wild happy. (One of those players profiled, by the way, was Derek Boogaard, who went on to the NHL and sadly died, sparking a massive New York Times feature on concussions in hockey.)
Update: The Minnesota Wild have issued a statement confirming that they're gone, baby, gone.
The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced on Thursday that its American Hockey League (AHL) developmental affiliate will relocate from Houston, Texas, to Des Moines, Iowa, beginning with the 2013-14 season.
"Our organization has enjoyed tremendous support from the loyal, passionate hockey fans in Houston since 2001," Wild Assistant to the General Manager/Aeros General Manager Jim Mill said. "There is a great hockey history in Houston, beginning with the Apollos in 1965, and continuing with the Aeros in the WHA, IHL and AHL. We are honored to have been a part of this hockey tradition."
"We are grateful to our corporate and community partners, as well as our hard-working staff in Houston," Mill added.
"We were not able to find agreement on terms of a new arena lease which would allow us to continue to successfully operate our franchise. We thank Toyota Center for the partnership we've had since moving there in 2003," Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka said.
"We have enjoyed a very strong relationship with the Aeros dating back to Toyota Center's inaugural 2003 season. Both parties worked diligently and in good faith during this process, but unfortunately we were unable to reach an agreement. We wish the Aeros continued success," Houston Rockets/Clutch City Sports & Entertainment CEO Tad Brown said.