Winterhawks have new owners
It took more than seven months, but the Portland Winterhawks finally have new owners.
Led by New York-based investment banker Michael Kramer and by former Monsanto executive Kerry Preete, the new ownership team is known as Winterhawks Sports Group. In addition to the Western Hockey League club, WSG acquired operations of Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton and of all Winterhawks Junior Hockey programs.
Winterhawks Sports Group will own the club as of Jan. 1, 2021.
The purchase price was $5.85 million, according to court documents.
Monday's announcement ends a seven-month process to find new owners for the WHL club, which has been in Portland since 1976.
The new group replaces Bill Gallacher, who purchased the club in 2008 and helped the Winterhawks turn around from a team at the bottom of the WHL to a team that won four consecutive Western Conference titles and the 2013 league championship. Gallacher's control of the club ended in May, when it was put into receivership because Gallacher used the Winterhawks as collateral for a loan he defaulted on.
Mike Johnston will remain the Winterhawks general manager and head coach and Doug Piper will remain as team president. The announcement from the WHL also said that all key staff for the hockey team, the skating center and the youth hockey programs will be retained, though it did not specifically identify individuals.
"Mike Johnston and his staff created one of the most successful and highly respected hockey development models in the world, while Doug Piper has laid the foundation for successful business operations in the Portland market," said Kramer, who is owner and CEO of New York City-based boutique investment firm Ducera Partners. "We are excited to inject our experience in both hockey and business to push this franchise to new heights. We are committed to this team, to the fans, the city of Portland and to the local hockey community."
The WHL statement announcing the purchase said the Winterhawks will remain in the Portland region long-term. A lease extension is in the works to continue playing at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Finding new owners amid the pandemic with uncertainty about when games (and revenue) will return was a challenge. Johnston and Piper met over the summer with several groups that showed interest in acquiring the club; those potential deals did not materialize.
"This is a big hurdle to get over," Johnston said.
Johnston said Kramer and Preete "are in it for the long haul. I really think they have a strong interest in the community and in our involvement in the community."
Johnston said he is excited by the new owners' understanding of the WHL and of the hockey business.
Kramer is a founding Partner and CEO of Ducera Partners. Among his wide-ranging investments is Antica Terra, a Willamette Valley winery; Eugene-based Arcimoto, an electric car company; and an ice rink in Norwalk, Connecticut. Originally from Los Angeles, he currently lives in Connecticut.
Preete, retired and living in Arizona, played junior hockey in his native Saskatchewan, including for the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders and at the University of Saskatchewan. He was a longtime volunteer youth hockey coach in St. Louis.
Another owner is Peter Luukko, current executive chairman of the NHL's Florida Panthers and who was president of the Philadelphia Flyers for more than 25 years. He is chairman of Oak View Group Facilities, which is developing several entertainment venues, including Climate Pledge Arena, which will be the home of the NHL's Seattle Kraken.
"Our goals are far bigger than just the Winterhawks' success and winning championships," Preete said in the WHL's announcement. "We intend to be responsive to our fans and sponsors as well as good community partners. This includes development of youth hockey and figure skating in the community."
Johnston said that while the process was long, he never worried about his own future because there was no way to predict what the new owners would want to do. He said he was more concerned about other Winterhawks employees.
"In the company, we have some really good people we want to retain, not just on the hockey side, but on the business side," Johnston said.
Much of the Winterhawks staff remains furloughed because of the pandemic. The WHL last week indefinitely postponed the start of its 2021 season. It planned to start playing Jan. 8, but the surge in COVID-19 throughout Canada and the United States has closed ice rinks across the league's footprint.
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