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Rampage, Coyotes announce affiliation

Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E) announced today it has purchased the Florida Panthers’ portion of the San Antonio-based American Hockey League (AHL) franchise, the San Antonio Rampage. At the same time, the Rampage have entered into a multi-year affiliation agreement with the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL).

The announcement was made jointly by SS&E executive vice president of finance & corporate development Rick Pych and Phoenix Coyotes general manager Michael Barnett.

SS&E’s assumption of sole ownership of the Rampage franchise was unanimously approved on Wednesday by the AHL’s Board of Governors. The Rampage’s affiliation agreement with the Coyotes becomes effective immediately.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Phoenix Coyotes,” Pych said. “We look forward to working with the entire Coyotes organization — one that is closer geographically to San Antonio and has the same strong dedication to exciting and competitive hockey as we do here.

“From our initial conversation, we felt that our teams shared similar management philosophies. We’re very optimistic that the Rampage’s on-ice product will be enhanced tremendously by our new partnership.”

The Coyotes, led by managing partner Wayne Gretzky, will provide San Antonio with players and coaches. Gretzky, a nine-time Hart Trophy winner (given to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player) was responsible for assembling Team Canada’s best hockey players for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City (won Gold Medal) and again in 2004 at the World Cup of Hockey (won Championship).

Barnett and Laurence Gilman, the Coyotes’ assistant general manager, will oversee hockey operations for the Rampage franchise. Barnett, who has over 20 years of experience in hockey, is responsible for the overall hockey operations of the Coyotes, including all matters relating to the club’s player personnel, coaching staff and scouting department. Gilman, who will also serve as the Rampage’s general manager, will attend to the day-to-day administration and the on-ice operations of the hockey team.

The Coyotes also announced that Pat Conacher will serve as head coach and Gord Dineen as assistant coach and director of hockey operations. Conacher and Dineen served in similar capacities last season with the Utah Grizzlies, the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate for the 2004-05 season.

Keith Ballard highlights some of the Coyotes’ top prospects that played last season, after being an AHL all-star selection as a rookie last year. The 11th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft won back-to-back NCAA championships at the University of Minnesota and was a 2004 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to the top collegiate player in the nation. Goaltender David LeNeveu is also a former Hobey Baker Award finalist (2003) and AHL All-Star (2004) and was a second-round draft pick by the Coyotes in 2002. Right wing Fredrik Sjostrom (11th overall) and defenseman Matthew Spiller (31st overall) are key prospects from the draft class of 2001, and center Jeff Taffe, a first-round choice in the 2000 Entry Draft and a 2003 AHL All-Star, has already played in 79 NHL games. It is expected that all of these players will be on the Rampage roster when the first puck drops this October.

The Coyotes become the second NHL affiliate in Rampage history. Phoenix’s history of developing players in the AHL has produced numerous NHL stars, most notably their captain Shane Doan. The right wing, who scored the Cup-winning goal for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup, was their first choice (1st round, 7th overall) in the 1995 Entry Draft. Since graduating from the AHL, Doan scored 20-plus goals the last five seasons and has amassed 351 points (142 goals, 209 assists) in a nine-year span (648 games).