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Folding of IHL would be end of Vipers, owner says


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001

Tom Wilson said he had not heard the story. But if true, it will mark the official end of the IHL's Detroit Vipers, the Lightning's flagship minor-league affiliate.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that six of the IHL's 11 teams -- Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Utah, Houston and Manitoba -- are jumping to the AHL and that the IHL will cease operations after the playoffs.

"If those teams do that, it would be the end of it because we're not planning on going to the AHL at this time," said Wilson, president of Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Vipers and Lightning.

Closing the Vipers wouldn't be a surprise. The team has had severe financial trouble, especially in the past two seasons.

"We've been pretty consistent in saying it's not totally dead but it would take a special alignment of the stars to come back," Wilson said.

After Palace Sports bought the Lightning in July 1999, it converted the Vipers from an independent team with a veteran roster to an affiliate with a main focus of developing Tampa Bay's young players.

"We had a wonderful run, and there are a lot of great memories," Wilson said of the team that won the 1996-97 Turner Cup championship with former Lightning coach Steve Ludzik behind the bench. "That has made it difficult to finally cut the cord."

Tampa Bay's new affiliate could be the AHL's Rochester Americans, whose longtime relationship with the Sabres may be ending.

"We're talking to (the Lightning and Sabres) every day," Americans spokesman Steve Rossi said. "We're trying to conclude this as soon as possible."

WORLD QUARTERFINALS TODAY: Isn't it time for Fredrik Modin to break out?

Though Sweden advanced to today's World Championships quarterfinals in Germany, the Lightning left wing, who scored 32 goals in the NHL season, has one tally. And don't think the Swedish media haven't noticed.

"It's only natural that I have been playing under the magnifying glass the last few games," Modin said. "I scored all those goals, and then I come here and don't score, so I have to accept that."

Tampa Bay forward Alexander Kharitonov, the darling of last year's Russian team, has struggled after scoring two early goals.

Other Lightning players have picked up the slack.

Forward Brad Richards leads Canada with six points on three goals and three assists, and is plus-6. Center Vinny Lecavalier has five points on three goals and two assists, is plus-5 and has won 51 percent of his faceoffs (29-for-57).

Defenseman Pavel Kubina has two goals and two assists for the Czech Republic and is plus-7. He had two goals and an assist in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over Canada that gave the Czech Republic the top seed in the quarterfinals.

Canada faces the United States in the quarters. Finland plays Germany. Sweden plays Russia. The Czech Republic faces Slovakia.

Lecavalier said the disappointment against the Czech Republic did not lessen his expectations.

"It was a good hockey game," he said. "We still have a chance to win the gold medal."

XO CLUB TO EXPAND: The Lightning said it will add up to 500 seats to the XO Club at the Ice Palace. The club, which features 421 seats in an upscale atmosphere that includes food and drinks, was sold out last season. A season ticket was $4,000.

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