The Minnesota Owls, the amateur junior hockey team based out of the Isanti County David C. Johnson Ice Arena, recently announced that they were disbanding for this upcoming season.
In a press release posted to their website, team President and General Manager Cindy Kuznia simply stated, “Due to unforeseen circumstances the Owls have decided to not play for the 2015-2016 season.” No specific reason for this move was provided by Kuznia.
The Owls, originally founded in 1993, claimed to be the oldest team in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MnJHL). The team immediately found success as they won the MnJHL playoffs in 1994 and again in 1998. In their 22 years of existence, the team has represented the MnJHL in the US Hockey Tier III national tournament a total of 11 times, the last time being in 2008. In the summer of 2008, the team moved from their old home arena in Blaine to the Isanti County Arena, and in the process helped fund an expansion to the arena which included a private dressing room for the team.
The announcement came as a surprise to many as the team was just three short weeks from starting a new chapter in their history as the team was set to join the new Midwest division of the U.S. Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The USPHL is a national developmental hockey league, compared to the now-defunct MnJHL, which only had teams in the upper Midwest.
The home opener for the team had been scheduled for Sept. 19 against the Forest Lake Lakers. Even up to the beginning of August, the team’s website had been announcing signings of players from across the country to be on this year’s team. It is uncertain what options are available for those players in light of this announcement.
What is also unclear is the impact this hiatus will have on the Isanti County Arena – specifically the financial impact. The team used the arena on a daily basis and was scheduled to play 17 home games for the 2015-2016 season. While the arena can attempt to fill the vacated ice time, it will probably be harder to replace the gate receipts and concession stand earnings, including a conditional use permit to sell alcohol during Owls games. Attempts to get specific information on the arena’s earnings for Owl games were not returned prior to this edition going to press.
However, according to team supporters, this is not the death of the Owls. A note from the team on the Minnesota Owls website promises: “We will be back next season with a new and exciting team. Keep checking the website for upcoming news.”