Pamplin Media Group – New Winterhawks Owners Are Hockey Fans, Portland Market

Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete lead the Winterhawks Sports Group and are committed to local involvement.

The Winterhawks’ new owners don’t live in Portland, but Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete are no strangers to the area, the Western Hockey League or the sport.

Kramer lives in Connecticut and Preete in Arizona, but they say they will be no strangers to Portland once their group takes control of the Winterhawks on Jan. 1, 2021.

“We want to be visible in the community and with the team,” Preete said in a Dec. 22 interview with the Portland Tribune. “During the first few weeks and months, we want to get the perspective of fans, sponsors and civic leaders on what is going well and what can be improved.”

COURTESY PHOTO - Kerry PreeteKramer and Preete are the managing partners of Winterhawks Sports Group, the name of a group of seven investors who will take over ownership of the Winterhawks next week. Preete will represent the club on the WHL Board of Governors.

Doug Piper will remain president of the Winterhawks and Mike Johnston will remain general manager and coach. Johnston said members of his staff, including coach Rich Campbell and equipment manager Mark Brennan, are eagerly awaiting approval of a return-to-play plan in the WHL so they can return to the work.

Key personnel from the Winterhawks Skating Center and the club’s youth hockey program, which is part of the Winterhawks Sports Group acquisition, will also be retained.

“One of the real strengths of the team was the hockey operation and what Mike (Johnston) was able to put together,” Kramer said. “We think very strongly of the whole group.”

COURTESY PHOTO - Micheal KramerAccording to court documents, Winterhawks Sports Group purchased the club for $5.85 million from the receiver who took control of the Winterhawks in May following Chapter 15 bankruptcy proceedings against Bill Gallacher. Gallacher, who bought the Winterhawks in 2008 and helped build a team that climbed from the bottom of the league to the top, used the club as collateral for a loan he failed to repay.

One of the new owners is Peter Luukko, a leader in the hockey and sports venue industries who spent more than 25 years as president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, overseeing the Philadelphia Flyers. and serving on the NHL’s Board of Governors. Since 2015, Luukko has served as executive chairman of the Florida Panthers.

As President of Oak View Group Facilities, Luukko is involved in the development of the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. He is also involved in the development of the future New York Islanders arena.

Luukko served on a task force responsible for player safety during the 2020 NHL Playoff bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. He is part of an Oak View Group task force that is developing plans for how sites can safely return fans after the pandemic.

Preete first learned that the Winterhawks were looking for new owners from Willie Desjardins, coach and general manager of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. Preete and Desjardins were teammates and roommates at the University of Saskatchewan, where Preete was a defenseman in the early 1980s.

Preete said he was initially not interested in buying the Winterhawks. But when Desjardins mentioned in September that the club was still looking for owners, Preete contacted Kramer and began exploring the situation.

Kramer and Preete knew the club. Kramer and Luukko previously served on the Rose Quarter board. Preete grew up in Saskatchewan and played in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. During his time playing at the University of Saskatchewan, he was friends with Peter Anholt, general manager of Desjardins and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

The top priority once Winterhawks Sports Group takes over will be to work with the WHL to plan for a 2021 season, Kramer said. Until that is determined, most club employees remain furloughed.

Reflecting on his time playing junior hockey, Preete listed three areas he wants the Winterhawks to excel in: strong lodging houses, top-notch nutrition and training programs, and a focus on educating kids. high school and college players.

“If you do those things well, you will be successful and win games,” Preete said.

An extension to the team’s lease at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum is in the works.

“For me, the Veterans Memorial Coliseum is an ideal arena for junior hockey,” Preete said, citing the size of the building.

Kramer and Preete said their interest in owning the Winterhawks goes beyond creating a winning junior hockey club. Winterhawks Sports Group also acquired the lease to operate the Beaverton Winterhawks Skating Center and the Winterhawks Junior Hockey Youth Program.

Kramer and Preete both coached youth hockey (Preete volunteered for two decades in the St. Louis area while an executive at Monsanto). They said the youth hockey program played a big role in their interest in buying the Winterhawks.

Enthusiasm for youth hockey and player development are two reasons Kramer and Preete see Portland as a rich hockey market. The NHL’s move to Seattle next season could increase interest in the sport regionally, but Kramer said that wasn’t a factor in the decision to buy the Winterhawks.

“We think Portland is actually a great hockey city on its own,” Kramer said.

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Sandy A. Greer