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Lightning looks to dump Vipers

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


Tom Wilson, president of Lightning owner Palace Sports & Entertainment, said he has given Tampa Bay assistant general manager Jay Feaster the go-ahead to search for a new flagship minor-league affiliate.

If Feaster is successful, Wilson said, Palace Sports will "not definitely but very likely" shut down the IHL's Detroit Vipers. Palace Sports owns the Vipers, which became a Tampa Bay affiliate when Palace Sports bought the Lightning in the summer of 1999.

The Vipers play to sparse crowds at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which Palace Sports also owns. Wilson said the Vipers' financial losses reached seven figures last season.

"In a perfect world, I think Jay and Rick (Dudley, general manager) would like to keep the Vipers afloat," Wilson said. "That's the only thing keeping some hope."

One possible scenario has the Lightning hooking up with the AHL's Rochester Americans, longtime affiliate of the Sabres. The Sabres are considering developing a minor-league team that would play at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.

Feaster said he has had conversations with about six IHL and AHL teams, and has spoken to some NHL teams about dual affiliations.

"At this point it would be way premature to say we're anything other than having conversations with a whole bunch of teams," Feaster said.

If Feaster cannot find a suitable substitute, Wilson said, Palace Sports could continue operating the Vipers "and hope we could be a better team and draw more fans and mitigate some of the losses."

But that obviously is not the preferred solution for Palace Sports, which Wilson said would not buy another minor-league team.

"Minor-league hockey is a real struggle right now, and we have to look at the losses we are having to endure here," Wilson said. "That ultimately impacts our team down in Tampa."

"The objective is to make sure we have options," Feaster said. "That's what we're trying to do."

THE HOME FRONT: Glen and Delite Richards, parents of Lightning rookie Brad Richards, have a bone to pick with whoever put together the schedule for the World Championships, Saturday-May 13 in Germany.

Lobster season begins May1 in the Canadian Maritimes, and Glen and Delite, who live in the fishing town of Murray Harbor on Prince Edward Island, will be on the water earning a living while their son plays for Team Canada.

"We'll find a way," Glen said when asked about watching Brad play. "We'll work faster and get in earlier. The VCR will be taping everything."

Glen said the family has a 45-foot fiberglass boat it takes out every day at 4 a.m. during the season, which lasts until June 30. The work is usually done by noon, but a five-hour time difference means Canada's games may be done by the time Glen and Delite get back to the house.

"We might be delayed, but we'll make sure we watch them all," Delite said.

Glen, Delite and 17-year-old daughter Paige -- who, by the way, is still a better swimmer than Brad -- have become celebrities on Prince Edward Island because of Brad's success.

Glen said people he does not know telephone to say they are vacationing in Tampa and will say hello to Brad if they see him. Delite said a woman she has not seen in years came up to her recently and told her how proud she is of Brad.

"It's unbelievable," Delite said. "The island has just taken him as its own."

Brad decided to stay in Tampa before leaving for Team Canada's training camp in Finland.

"It's too cold," he said of Prince Edward Island.

Glen reported that temperatures last week were about 32 degrees, with rain and wind.

"He likes fishing, and he likes getting into the boat," Glen said of his son. "But he didn't want to make a living at it. He wanted to pursue his dream."

THE BIG TIME: Lightning forward Ryan Johnson was in New York last week, working on the NHL Cool Shots television show. Johnson, who wants to go into film production after retiring, helped put together the show that will air at 5 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN. A feature on Johnson and his filmmaking future also will be shown.

SPEAKING OF JOHNSON: He will be at Toona's Sports Grill, 1707 E Busch Blvd., Tampa, from 6-7 tonight as part of the Lightning's Cup Crazy Party. The event takes place every Monday beginning at 3 p.m. throughout the playoffs.

LIGHTNING AWARDS: Junior prospect Fedor Fedorov, who plays for the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and is the brother of the Red Wings' Sergei Fedorov, was voted by league coaches as the Eastern Conference's most improved player.

Fedorov, 19, had 33 goals and 45 assists, and was plus-25 in 67 regular-season games. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound center was selected in the sixth round (182nd overall) in the 1999 draft. If he is not signed by May 31, he goes back into the draft.

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