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Halifax hoping hockey Coyotes howl in its barn

Scott Ferguson, Interim President and CEO of Trade Centre Limited stands in the Halifax Metro Centre arena Monday.

Sandor Fizli for the Globe and Mail/sandor fizli The Globe and Mail

Diehard fans in Winnipeg and Quebec City have dreamed for years about getting their hockey teams back, and are quick to list the reasons the NHL should give them another chance.

But when a group bidding for the Phoenix Coyotes went searching for a Canadian community to host some games, they looked beyond those bereaving cities. And while they're said to be leaning toward Saskatoon , Halifax boasts a personal connection the prairie city can't match.

Bobby Smith, the Coyotes' general manager in the late 1990s, is the owner of Halifax's popular junior hockey team, the Mooseheads. He has a home in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he holds season tickets to the Coyotes, and is enthusiastic about the prospect of having them play in the Maritimes.

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"It's a great hockey market," Mr. Smith said Monday from Scottsdale. "I certainly think people would get excited about seeing some regular-season games."

Mr. Smith said he is only a "bystander" in the push to bring the team to Halifax. But his views on the idea are given heft by his perspective as a former player, former GM and current owner of a junior team. And he praised the Metro Centre, where the Mooseheads play, as a good venue for top-level games.

"From a player's standpoint, that rink is ready to go," he said. "The actual playing experience would be as good as any one in the NHL."

The idea comes from a group intending to bid $150-million (U.S.) for the team and pledging to bring five of the franchise's regular-season games to Saskatoon or Halifax. No firm deal is in place and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said any such plan would have to be "considered and approved" by the league's board of governors.

Those lobbying for Halifax are candid that much has to fall into place before the struggling team could actually appear here.

"The discussions with the NHL on the ownership process are far more dominant at this point," acknowledged Scott Ferguson, interim president and chief executive officer of Halifax's Trade Centre Ltd., the owner of the Metro Centre.

But he was happy to lay out the city's case for getting the team. He touted Maritime hockey fervour, the success of last year's world championship and the "good bones" of the generation-old rink. Its 10,500 seats are more than the number of tickets sold for games in some U.S. franchise locations, he noted.

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"Halifax is a big hockey town, and it's strengthened by the fact that it draws from the region," Mr. Ferguson said.

Hockey zeal does indeed run deep here, with some fans swearing allegiance to the same Original Six team for decades.

A sizable contingent root for the Boston Bruins, honouring a connection that goes back to that city's supportive response to the 1917 Halifax explosion. Perhaps as many cheer for the Montreal Canadiens. Others follow the Detroit Red Wings, and even the Toronto Maple Leafs have their diehard supporters.

But among even the most traditional of these fans is a growing excitement at the thought the Coyotes could be playing games here.

"It would be fantastic if they did," said deputy mayor Russell Walker, who started cheering for the Habs 56 years ago, when he was six. "I think a lot of people would become Coyotes fans."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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