LA CROSSE, Wis. — Four years ago, Mark Motz was part of a group that wanted to bring a Junior-A hockey franchise to the La Crosse area.
But after checking things out, it became apparent that neither La Crosse’s Green Island Ice Arena nor Onalaska’s OmniCenter met the criteria required by the North American Hockey League.
Instead, the franchise — now known as the North Iowa Outlaws — settled in Mason City.
Four years later, Motz is once again interested in bringing Junior hockey to La Crosse, this time with a franchise that would play in the lower-level Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
“When we first bought our (NAHL) franchise, we really wanted to be in La Crosse, Wisconsin,” said Motz, a longtime Twin Cities area businessman. “But the North American Hockey League has certain criteria as far as the arenas that are approved by the league, and the facilities in La Crosse didn’t meet them. The biggest problem was the seating capacity.”
While he wasn’t able to bring an NAHL team to the area, Motz is hopeful a deal can be worked out for a MJHL franchise to play at Green Island.
“What we are doing right now is really in its infancy,” Motz said. “I have approached the (La Crosse) Park and Recreation (Department) and presented them with a business plan,” Motz said. “We have shown them different options that are available as far as Green Island is concerned.
“Now, they are in the process of putting a lease proposal together and will get back to me. If everything works out right, we are looking at putting a Tier III team in La Crosse for the 2009-10 season.”
Motz said he has been working with La Crosse Recreation Supervisor Joe Protz on the proposal. Neither Protz nor La Crosse Parks and Recreation Director Steve Carlyon were available for comment on Tuesday.
“There’s no real time table right now,” Motz said. “I just presented to them about two weeks ago. I understand that this is something they need to do their due diligence on and is if it is acceptable to their situation.
“There are other people who use the arena, so they have take that into consideration, too.”
Motz said there has been some confusion recently about the Outlaws, who are seeking a new lease for their arena in Mason City, relocating to the La Crosse area. But that isn’t the case.
“There have been some rumors,” he said. “But our trying to get our lease renewed in Mason City isn’t relevant to La Crosse.”
Junior hockey is the top developmental level of amateur hockey for players under the age of 20. There are three levels of Junior hockey — Tier I, Tier II and Tier III.
Players, many of whom are high school students, live with host families during the season.
Tier I is the top level, and includes the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, the Des Moines Buccaneers and the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
Tier II, which the North Iowa Outlaws are part of, is the second level, while Tier III is the lowest level.
Motz said Green Island, with its seating capacity of between 500 and 700 is on par with other facilities in the MJHL.
While Motz admits he is a bit selfish about part of his reasons for wanting to bring a team to La Crosse — his daughter, UW-La Crosse assistant gymnastics coach Kari De Long, and son-in-law, Viterbo volleyball coach Ryan De Long, live here — he is also confident that a hockey team can make it here.
“I absolutely believe it,” he said. “In Mason City, we have a great following, great fans and great support from the business community, and we only have 30,000 people.
“I know we can accomplish that and more in La Crosse. The potential is huge.”