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Lightning, Rochester a match?

Tampa Bay, looking for a new minor-league affiliate, considers the AHL team.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


It appears almost certain the Lightning will have a new flagship minor-league affiliate next season, and talks, right now, seem to be centered on the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans.

"It's a possibility," Lightning general manager Rick Dudley said Thursday. "We're not going to deny we've talked to them. But saying that doesn't mean there's anything imminent."

The circumstances could be coming together. The Americans' long-time affiliation with the Sabres is teetering over finances. And Dudley said "it is a distinct likelihood, and a sad distinct likelihood" the IHL's Detroit Vipers, a Lightning affiliate the past two seasons, will be shut down.

Palace Sports & Entertainment owns the Lightning and Vipers. President Tom Wilson has said the Vipers' per-season financial losses are seven figures.

Dudley said the Lightning has spoken with other teams about affiliations, including the IHL's Orlando Solar Bears and Houston Aeros. But talks with the Americans seem the most advanced.

"There are so many people in both organizations that know one another," Dudley said, "it makes for a comfortable dialogue."

Lightning coach John Tortorella led the Americans to the 1996 Calder Cup championship. Dudley said he and Americans president Steve Donner once tried to buy a minor-league team together. And Lightning assistant general manager Jay Feaster spent nine years in the AHL as an executive with the Hershey Bears.

Nothing can be finalized until the Americans conclude talks with the Sabres. Americans spokesman Steve Rossi gave it three weeks.

"After 22 years, we're going to give Buffalo every opportunity to agree," Rossi said.

But he also welcomed a possible affiliation with the Lightning.

"There are quality people in Tampa Bay," Rossi said. "That's the reason we keep talking. We believe it's an up-and-coming organization."

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