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Arizona Coyotes owner could move his Tucson hockey team to Tempe

Following the announcement of the Arizona Coyotes’ $1.2 billion relocation to Salt Lake City, another relocation rumor now swirls around a second professional hockey team in Arizona.

Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo mentioned on Thursday his plan to move the AHL Tucson Roadrunners to Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena during an interview with Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo.

The move would be an effort to keep professional hockey in the Valley while Meruelo attempts to win a land auction in north Phoenix that could be a first step in bringing a new NHL team to Arizona that would carry the Coyotes name. The Roadrunners remain under the ownership of Meruelo and will be an affiliate of the new team in Utah.

“We intend to make a request to the NHL board of governors and ASU to relocate the Roadrunners to Mullett Arena,” Meruelo said.

On Friday, in a press conference with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in Phoenix, Meruelo added to his comments with an explanation that the relocation could be more work.

“This is very early in the process so I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Meruelo said in response to a question about the Roadrunners. “There’s a lot of discussions going on, there’s no commitment from anybody right now, so I want to make sure — my words were taken out of context the other day, I did say them but we don’t have any agreements with ASU right now, we haven’t even spoken to the people from Tucson, but we have different ideas so we just want to make sure we continue to have hockey thrive in the desert.”

The lack of communication between Meruelo and Tucson has created confusion among the Roadrunners organization and its fan base. During the Roadrunners’ season finale Saturday in Tucson, fans held signs that read, “Stay in Tucson.”

Tucson city officials expressed concern about remaining in the dark during the process.

“I think a lot of things are happening behind closed doors,” said Edmund Marquez, vice chairman of Rio Nuevo. “We would love to be a part of that conversation. We have been in contact with our Tucson Roadrunners leadership here — not a lot from the Coyotes yet..”

The Roadrunners weighed in on Saturday, following Meruelo’s public statements:

“We still have no communication from the ownership or the AHL that [a move] is happening. … We hope and look forward to hearing from the ownership soon,” the Roadrunners said in a statement. “Until that happens, we are wishing the team great success as they move deeper in the playoffs.”

Meruelo released another hypothetical statement during Friday’s press conference, opening up the possibility of the Roadrunners playing a half-season in Tucson and the other half in Tempe. The logistics of the decision have yet to be addressed, the most important being the challenges of playing in two venues located more than 100 miles apart.

For the Roadrunners to relocate to Tempe, the NHL and AHL board of governors would have to approve the move before upcoming season schedules are released, which occurs at the beginning of summer.

The Roadrunners are under contract at the Tucson Convention Center for two more years, and breaking the current lease in Tucson would cost approximately $3 million, the report said. In addition, Meruelo would have to negotiate a new contract with ASU to house the Roadrunners at Mullett Arena.

Emotions have peaked among the Tucson hockey community due to the uncertainty of the Roadrunners’ future in Tucson. The Tucson Convention Center maintains the only sheet of ice in Tucson, where youth hockey and University of Arizona club hockey are played. Due to the current contract between TCC and the Roadrunners nearing an end, there is concern that a relocation would remove the only ice rink from the city.

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