It’s not over, but it’s not looking good for the Columbus Cottonmouths immediate future.
Cottonmouths General Manager and Coach Jerome Bechard said Wednesday the team needs to find new ownership by the end of the week or it will be forced to cease operations and not field a team in the Southern Professional Hockey League next season.
Wanda Amos, who has owned the team for 17 years, confirmed in early March if new ownership was not found, she was prepared to cease operations. In recent weeks, Bechard has been having discussions with two out-of-town ownership groups, but no deal has been reached.
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Though the Snakes finished the season about two weeks ago, the club has to inform the league office of its intentions next season in a couple of days.
“I think the interest is there, but timing is the issue,” Bechard said. “We are trying to get something done by the deadline, but it is not looking good right now.”
Bechard, who has been the face of Columbus hockey since its inception in 1996 under founding owner Charlie Morrow, is not ready to say it’s over, but he is also practical.
“A month ago, I was very optimistic that we could get this thing done,” he said. “Now, that optimism is starting to fall to the wayside a little bit.”
The Cottonmouths play their home games in the Columbus Civic Center and practice in the adjacent city-owned ice rink. City Manager Isaiah Hugley said the city has been approached by “three or four” different entities in regard to the club’s lease with the city. Hugley did not name the interested parties, but said one contact came as recently as Friday.
“We are encouraged that at least four groups, organizations or individuals have expressed an interest to the city,” Hugley said. “Our position is they need to talk to the current owner. Once the ownership issue is resolved, we are ready to do business with the new owner. The building is available and we are willing to negotiate a lease.”
Bechard nor Hugley identified the potential new ownership groups or individuals.
The reason for the deadline to commit for the 2017-18 season is practical, Bechard said.
“The league needs to know who’s in and who’s out,” he said. “That way everyone can move forward.”