Hunt’s purchase of Missouri Mavericks will help youth hockey in KC

Hockey-merger

MARCH 2015 – There’s a new name in Kansas City hockey, and it’s a big one.

Lamar Hunt Jr., oldest son of the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs and the American Football League, has purchased the Missouri Mavericks, which has a direct affiliation with the Junior Mavericks youth program. While that may seem threatening for the Kansas City Ice Center and its lesser-known ownership group, KCIC general manager Dean Nelson insists it is nothing but good news.

“The first impact that will help all of youth hockey is the Junior Mavericks program and the KC Stars program will join together to form one affiliated youth program,” Nelson said. “This is something we’ve talked about for a while. It’s something that will benefit all of the kids, because our numbers will rise and we’ll be able to do more things. That will happen this summer.

“Our 4-on-4 program that we run in the spring will now involve kids from across the city. We’ll get everybody to the same clinics and the same camps. Our travel programs will have more teams and more competitive teams. The second thing is Lamar Hunt Jr. is committed to building more sheets of ice around the area. He knows the need for more ice.”

Hunt emphasized the growth of youth hockey as one of his goals.

kcicecenter.com“Hockey fans are out there,” Hunt said. “There’s no question about that. Kansas City doesn’t have the sheets of ice. You’ve got to introduce the sheets of ice and get kids playing. (We will) really concentrate on building more skaters in Kansas City, the entire Kansas City metro and getting more skaters on the ice to play ice hockey. We need more sheets of ice to do that and I’ve got a vision for that.”

The combining of the two junior programs will help youth hockey in Kansas City, according to Nelson, because the coordination of ice time, camps and clinics. Both facilities run regular clinics during the year and hold numerous camps during the summer. There are about four times as many participants on the Kansas side, though the Mavericks, who play in Independence, have helped spawn interest on the Missouri side. More kids mean more revenue to the facilities and better competition.

Recreational-level teams will still play in the facility closest to their homes, but not the traveling teams.

“The travel program probably will be run 80 percent out of here and 20 percent out of there,” Nelson said. “We’re so early in the process that it’s hard to determine this exactly. But since most of the kids who try out for the teams live closer to us, I believe most of the activities will be in the KCIC. We have 450 kids—and growing—in the developmental program and they have significantly less, though they’re growing too.

“It will help us by opening up a second facility for possible practices. This brings in two more sheets of ice for the program. In the past, we’ve had a hard time getting together.”

Certainly, the name Lamar Hunt—with or without the Junior on the end—will help. The family has been involved with the Chiefs since they were founded as the Dallas Texans in 1960. They moved in 1963 to Kansas City.

Lamar Hunt Sr. is immortalized in Kansas City, because of the Chiefs, and Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. What may be less familiar to sports enthusiasts was his interest in the NHL. He and John McConnell formed an LLC to bring an NHL team to Columbus, Ohio. After a dispute over financing an arena, McConnell worked a deal to lease a new arena on his own and secured the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 2000-01 season. Hunt sued for control, but lost.

Lamar Hunt Jr. owns the same share of the Chiefs as his younger brother Clark. He’s been comfortable being in the shadows, but he knows that his name will help whatever plans he has for growth in this area.

“It would be naïve of me to think that somebody wouldn’t take that phone call and listen to what we’re saying,” he said. “It does open doors, and it’s a blessing.”

Hunt first saw the growth in youth hockey when the Minnesota North Stars moved in 1993 to Dallas to become the Stars. Then there were two public skating rinks in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but over the years the number has grown more than tenfold.

“He saw hockey grow and saw what a pro team did for that area,” Nelson said. “He watched the area grow from one or two rinks to 22. He purchased the Missouri Mavericks with the idea of building hockey in this area from the ground up. I think he wants to bring another minor league hockey team to the area, either a semipro team or an affiliate for the NHL. He knows it all starts with youth hockey.”

Nelson said the trend in the NHL is to move the primary feeder club closer to the parent club. A couple of seasons ago, the Minnesota Wild moved their AHL affiliate from Houston to Des Moines.

“That means they’re only three hours away if they need a guy,” Nelson said. “That just makes sense. I know that there are some teams on the West Coast that still have their affiliates on the East Coast, but the trend is to move them closer. I’m assuming that (Hunt) wouldn’t get involved in something like this if he didn’t have plans and aspirations down the road.”

Hunt hinted bringing an NHL affiliate might not be the end of his goals for hockey in Kansas City.

“I think it would be real cool if we had an NHL team playing in Kansas City, but there’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

That goal, which has been smoldering for at least two decades, suddenly has gained traction with the addition of one name to the picture. One really big name.

 

Growth Continues at KCIC

The Kansas City Ice Center wrapped up another successful season of hockey tournaments for traveling teams from around the area.

The KCIC Winter Classic tournaments nearly maxed out the available spots for all three divisions. The Pee Wees (ages 11-12) did reach the maximum of 17 teams, up two from last year. The other divisions—the Squirts (9-10) and the Bantams (13-14) were three teams short of capacity. Those both represent growth from last year as well.

That growth, while encouraging, brings the challenge of what to do when the interest exceeds the capacity.

“Our ownership is working closely with the Lamar Hunt Jr. group to look at putting in more rinks in the next two years,” KCIC general manager Dean Nelson said.

Nelson also notes that the new partnership between the KC Stars youth program that’s run out of the KCIC and the Junior Mavericks that’s run out of the Independence Events Center will help because there are two more sheets of ice that can be used.

Article by David Smale

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