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Belleville scores Ottawa Senators farm team

By Brendan Burke [5]Matthew Murray [6] and James Gaughan [7] 

BELLEVILLE – Big league hockey is coming back to Belleville.

The Ottawa Senators farm team will soon call the Yardmen Arena [8]home ice – following a planned relocation announced Monday morning during a press conference.

Flanked by Senators executives, Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher expressed his enthusiasm about the organization’s plans to move its farm team [9] north.

Addressing media and residents at the packed Cannifton Road arena, Christopher said he is optimistic about the team’s reception.

“This is our team and we are confident you will support it.”

The move – which will see the Sens’ current major-league affiliate break away from its Binghamton, N.Y., location – comes after months of rumours and speculation about a potential change of address.

Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators, made light of the rumour mill, saying, “This is the worst-kept secret I’ve ever seen.”

Christopher said that the team has a minimum eight-year lease at the Yardmen.

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The logo for the new Belleville Senator American Hockey League team was unveiled Monday morning at the Yardmen Arena. Photo by James Gaughan.

The decision comes on the heels of city council’s greenlighting of a $20 million facelift for Yardmen Arena at a special meeting early Monday.

Matthew Delean of Ottawa-based company Architecture49 [10] spoke before council, showing off his company’s plan for an upgrade to the nearly 40-year-old arena. Architecture 49 has handled previous arena redesigns, including the Meridian Centre [11] in St. Catharines, Ont. and the Canalta Centre [12] in Medicine Hat, Alta.

The proposal will see the capacity jump from 3,200 to around 4,400 seats. Of the new seats, about 450 would be considered premium ones along the boards of the rink. The plan will also see 45 accessibility seats added.

The current Olympic-sized ice surface would be changed to meet National Hockey League standards. A 9,000-square-foot home-team dressing room and a new score clock for the arena were also discussed. Upgrades to the concourse and a new entrance at the northeast end of the building were also outlined in Delean’s presentation.

City Counsellor Jack Miller told QNet News that the team’s arrival will help fill the void left by the Belleville Bulls’ departure.

“I know how devastated the area was when the Bull’s left town. It was very sudden and took a lot of people by surprise. Now it’s happening and for the hockey fans I feel great,” he said.

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Belleville City Counsellor Jack Miller addresses the crowd at Yardmen Arena during Monday’s press conference. Council approved a $20 million face-lift for the rink just hours earlier. Photo by James Gaughan.

Miller added that the announcement benefits non-sports fans, too.

“The economic benefit of this team is huge. If [players] are living here, they’re gassing their cars and shopping here.”

Kevin Dean, a self-described die-hard Senators fan, said Belleville is a good fit within the major league organization.

“It will be a great marriage between the two,” he said.

Looking ahead, Dean said he is confident the team will produce on the ice.

“I expect in two to five years, we’ll be having a parade.”

On Binghamton’s [16] end, WBNG – TV sports reporter Tyler Feldman told QNet News that many community members anticipated the move.

“There’s certainly been rumours. I don’t think it came as a surprise to many of the fans here,” he said.

Feldman, who knew of the pending relocation before Monday’s announcement, said plans are already in motion to replace the migrating Senators.

“99 per cent chance an AHL team will be here for next season,” Feldman said, citing executive vice president Tom Mitchell’s own optimism.

Belleville Senators – who have already launched a website [17] – plan to hit the ice for the 2017/18 season, with arena renovations expected to wrap up in November or December of 2017.

With files from QNet News’ Tyler Penney and Buckley Smith. 

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