- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

The Washington Capitals are considering moving their farm team to Hershey, Pa., a city that has been home to a minor league team since before World War II.

The Caps would not confirm the move was being considered, but general manager George McPhee acknowledged there have been a lot of rumors in hockey circles.

“We are still under contract to Portland [Maine] for another year,” McPhee said. “There is lots of speculation, a lot of things going on but we are still under contract.”

The speculation concerns the Caps shifting their American Hockey League farm team from Portland, where it has been since 1993, to Hershey for the 2005-06 season. To accomplish that without having what might be an expensive financial settlement, another AHL team would have to replace the Caps’ affiliate in Maine. That team is believed to be the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Anaheim’s top farm team.

An executive with the Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co., which owns and operates the Hershey Bears franchise, would say only that the firm is looking for a new AHL affiliation to operate out of the three-year-old, 10,500-seat Giant Center next season.

The Hershey franchise opened up a week ago when Hershey and the Colorado Avalanche parted over differences in commitment of personnel. The Avalanche supplied less than a half-dozen players to the team for most of this season and apparently indicated the figure might be even smaller next season. Colorado owned only four players on the Bears’ 20-man roster on Wednesday.

The Bears are one of the most storied franchises in minor league hockey. They are owned by the umbrella firm set up to support the Milton Hershey Academy, a school and home for orphans established in the early 1900s. Profits from the chocolate company, amusement park, hotel, hockey team and the firm’s other enterprises support the academy.

Because of its unique method of operation for a minor league team, the Bears are designed to win and turn a profit as opposed to many minor league teams, which function mainly as developmental arms of the parent organization. For those franchises, producing replacement players for the NHL level is a higher priority than winning and turning a profit.

As a result, the Hershey franchise owns many of the players who perform, but it still needs substantial personnel help from an NHL club. Hershey executives felt Colorado was not holding up its end.

This is the 67th consecutive season Hershey has had a team. It also is the second straight season the Bears will miss the playoffs, a situation team owners do not find financially acceptable.

If the Caps do move, it would be the second time Washington has used the Pennsylvania city as the locale for its farm team. The Caps had an affiliation with Hershey from 1977-78 to 1983-84.

Among the considerations thought to enter the equation are travel and related costs. Hershey is about a two-hour drive from the Washington area, whereas Portland is 10 hours away via the interstates. Portland is accessible by air but weather and connection delays always are a concern in the winter.

Home venues also enter the picture. The Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland is an aging structure badly in need of modernization or demolition. There has been nothing beyond talk of building a new facility. Meanwhile, the Giant Center is thoroughly modern in every aspect with easy access to interstates and an airport.

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