The owners of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are trying to reassure fans that they are "working hard" to keep the team in the Chaleur region.
That follows a tumultuous week in which more reports surfaced about the team's possible relocation to the Montreal area, some pointed comments from the mayor of Bathurst and the departure of the team's head coach and general manager.
"It is important for us, the Titan owners, to offer you our deepest apologies for the various outbursts in the traditional media and social media over the past few days," team president Serge Thériault said in a statement addressed to fans, season ticket holders, sponsors, partners and citizens.
Thériault said he was aware of some possible misunderstanding and uncertainty, and the team wants to be as transparent as possible, as it continues negotiations with a potential new majority owner — Fix Auto Canada Inc.
"Fix Auto Canada Inc. has assured us that Titan hockey will remain in Bathurst," said Thériault.
"Fix Auto Canada Inc. will partner with the Titan shareholder group," he said, "and together, they will work to the best of their abilities to keep the Titan operating and growing in Bathurst."
In recent years, the Titan ownership group has included a dozen shareholders. Besides Serge Thériault, they include: Léopold Thériault, Marc R. Guignard, Lévis Roy, Neil Branch, Ronald Losier, Jeannot Sivret, André Cyr, Steven White, Daryll Stothart, Bernard Kenny and Sean Couturier.
The Titan have been struggling to attract enough fans to their home games in Bathurst to be profitable.
Average attendance last season was about 1,750, said Thériault, while the target is about 2,500.
The team moved to Bathurst in 1998 and made money in its first five seasons, said Thériault but hasn't since then.
It broke even in 2018, he said, the year they won the Memorial Cup.
Word has been circulating that a relocation clause is part of the proposed deal with Fix Auto. Thériault said that is not the case.
Attendance key to future
However, if attendance remains at the 1,700 level, he said, the team will have to move. And it can't wait five years to make a Plan B.
The owner of Fix Auto, Steve Leal, has spoken publicly about wanting to move a professional hockey team to the Montreal region.
Following initial reports to that effect in French media this spring, a followup story about a week ago in the Quebec-based newspaper Le Devoir prompted Bathurst Mayor Kim Chamberlain to say she was "very disappointed."
She called out the team for a "lack of transparency" and described the situation as "extremely frustrating."
The Titan have a "committed fan base" in the region, she said.
"We have done everything in our power to help the present ownership group, to try to ensure the team stays in Bathurst for years to come."
The Titan also announced Thursday that Jason Clarke, who became general manager in June and has been leading the bench since November, is leaving the team for a new assistant coach job with the San Diego Gulls, a farm team for the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.
It touted the departure as an example of the league's importance as a training ground for both staff and players.
A couple of the Titan's players were drafted to the NHL this year, said the president, and three the previous year.
Thériault said he remains confident there are at least 15,000 people within an hour's drive of the K.C. Irving Regional Centre who are interested in watching the games.
If each of them went to just four games a season, he said, it would be enough to make a go of things.
In terms of spinoffs, he said, the team generates 1,000 hotel nights a year, as well as increased business for restaurants on game nights and directly employs about 20 people.