Condors

Thursday, Jan 23 2014 08:25 PM

Oilers' owners finalize deal to purchase Condors

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Edmonton Oilers President Patrick LaForge, left and Condors President Matthew Riley share a laugh and team jerseys during a press conference in Bakersfield to announce the sale of the Condors to the Oilers on Jan. 23.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Edmonton Oilers President Patrick LaForge answers questions from the local media on Jan. 23 about the sale of the Bakersfield Condors to the Oilers.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Edmonton Oilers President Patrick LaForge answers questions from the local media Thursday about the sale of the Bakersfield Condors to the Oilers.

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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer mgriffith@bakersfield.com

The Condors were not for sale, but when the Edmonton Oilers came knocking at their door they invited them in to talk.

Seven months after that initial conversation, a deal was consummated.

What had been widely reported for more than a week became a reality Thursday when it was announced during a news conference at Rabobank Arena that the NHL team had purchased Condors from investor Jonathan Fleisig.

The acquisition by the Oilers gives that organization teams at three levels along with the Edmonton Oil Kings, a major junior team in the Western Hockey League.

It turns out that first contact with the Condors back in June was was far from a cold call.

Unbeknownst to the Condors, the brass in Edmonton had been looking to purchase an ECHL franchise for some time. They had done their due diligence and apparently wanted no part of Stockton, where they had an ECHL affiliation from 2006 through last season.

"I came here and watched games," said Oilers President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick LaForge of how he grew familiar with Bakersfield. "I went to Fresno, Ontario, Boise, Victoria (B.C.), ... Vegas. I just looked at the community and how they were reacting to the product. The way the players fit into the community. The way I thought they felt about playing and living in the community."

So when the Oilers, who brought their mothballed American Hockey League franchise to Oklahoma City in 2010, decided it was time to acquire an ECHL franchise, Bakersfield was already high on their list.

"When we started to talk about the next level initiative in the development system I said I think Bakersfield is the best western team," LaForge said. "I like Bakersfield. I like the community. It's got an airport that gets you somewhere. Direct flights. Tomorrow I'm going direct to Phoenix. I came in direct from Houston. That's a big advantage for us.

"The city is in the black it's not gone bankrupt. It didn't file Chapter 11 like a lot of other cities (such as Stockton). That is a big thing.

"The fans have been terribly loyal. (Condors President Matthew Riley) is a very highly rated guy in minor sports and that's got a lot to do with it. The organization is here to support it. All that being considered we like it. We just went down our check list."

Then the Oilers contacted the Condors, who were looking for an NHL affiliation.

"I think the affiliation kind of came after their inquisition about ownership," Riley said. "It was a natural course of events along the way. We certainly didn't know (the sale) was going to happen until real recently here because purchase transactions aren't slam dunks or easy."

LaForge said the Oilers' interest in the Condors spiked when previous owner Jonathan Fleisig, after two straight years of not making the playoffs, revamped the hockey operation last spring to somewhat mirror that of an AHL team: a general manager focused on hockey ops, a head coach, an assistant coach and part-time assistant coach.

"We changed our affiliation from Stockton to Bakersfield because of that, because we were interested in Bakersfield and we wanted to test drive the car for a while or try on the jeans, depending on how you like it," LaForge said.

It was a good fit and now the Oilers have the key to the franchise and a lease with the city that run through 2023.

And they don't plan to do a lot of modifications.

"We're not tampering with a good thing," LaForge said. "We're not reaching over Matt's shoulder to change the salt shakers on the table. Matt's doing a great job. He's a great leader. Our job is to support him in higher levels of success. We'll do that and provide him with the tools that can make him a little bit better."

Riley said the resources and experience the Oilers bring to the franchise can only make the Condors stronger.

"We've been somewhat successful as an independent organization here for 15 years and now to have the backing of someone like the Edmonton Oilers and what they bring is really inspiring," he said. "I think everybody in this league sees this as a huge step in the right direction and a step to to the NHL teams opening their eyes and seeing how teams at our level, the double-A level, can can be of more benefit to teams at the NHL level.

"This is not only a great step and a great day for the Condors but for the strength of the league as a whole."

 

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