Parks officials are negotiating with a group of hockey team owners to bring a semi-pro team to Marathon Park
A junior league hockey team could hit the ice at Marathon Park by September, Parks Department officials say.
REB Enterprise from New Ulm, Minn. contacted the parks department in January to express interest in bringing a North American Hockey League team to the Wausau area. The plan is to buy an existing team and relocate them to Wausau. The group already owns another junior league team, the New Ulm Steel.
Junior hockey leagues are stepping stones for players between high school and college. High school grads typically play a few years in junior hockey leagues before joining college teams. Roughly 70% of players in the league go on to play hockey at Division I schools, according to league officials. Team members typically stay with host families during the season. The county’s Parks Committee on March 7 approved finalizing the contract with REB.
Owners of REB Enterprise need to have a contract with the county in place by April 1 to purchase the team and start the 2017-18 season, which would run from the third week of September to the end of March, parks officials say. The group already is working with area youth and high school hockey teams to work out schedules for use of Marathon Park.
Which team is it? That’s under wraps for now, says Park Department Operations Manager Bob Stephens. The owners aren’t revealing which team it is until the sale is final, Stephens says, because it will mean a move for those players. Teams are located all over the U.S., including in Alaska and Texas. Wausau’s would be the third NAHL team based in Wisconsin.
The team REB Enterprise would bring to Wausau plays in the highest tier junior league. That would be a chance for Wausau area residents to potentially see future NHL stars. Last year, eight players from the league were drafted into the professional National Hockey League. The junior league hockey team would play 28 games Friday and Saturday nights throughout the season in the 24-team league. REB Enterprise owners are hoping to add more capacity to 609 seats available at Marathon Park’s ice rink.