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Phoenix to call ECHL franchise 'Roadrunners'

PHOENIX -- The downtown investment group that owns NBA, WNBA
and Arena Football League teams in Phoenix added a hockey franchise
Tuesday.

Suns Legacy Partners, which also operates the America West Arena
where the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers play,
resurrected a time-honored hockey name for its ECHL club -- the
Phoenix Roadrunners.

At a news conference, co-owner Robert Sarver introduced former
NHL star Claude Lemieux as the team president.

Sarver, the Suns' managing partner, said the Roadrunners would
have filled a niche in the Phoenix sports scene regardless of the
NHL lockout.

"Basketball is expensive -- it would be hard to get Shawn Marion
to play for $500 a week at this point," Sarver said. "But this
hockey is an opportunity, for a $10 or $12 ticket, where families
with kids can come in and have a good time."

The franchise became available when its original owners were
unable to put a deal together in the Chicago area. The league
approved the sale to SLP on Jan. 26.

So far, the Roadrunners are nothing but a front office, but
Lemieux said he planned to hire a coach-general manager within a
few weeks to get ready for a season that begins in October.

"I have names, and I have one in particular that I'm pretty set
on," he said.

Sarver and Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo acquired the rights to
the name and logo from Alberta businessman Lyle Abraham. Lemieux
said he hadn't decided whether to adopt the uniform style and
silver-and-blue colors the Roadrunners wore during their last
International Hockey League season in 1996-97.

The team has no NHL affiliation and will play its first season
as an independent.

The obstructed-view seats which cost the Phoenix Coyotes
millions in lost revenue at the arena from 1996-2003 will not be
sold, and Colangelo said an average of 5,000 fans per game was the
break-even point with average ticket price below $15.

Coupled with the move of the New Jersey franchise to Stockton,
Calif., the Roadrunners will make 10 teams in the West Division of
the former East Coast Hockey League.

Lemieux, 39, played the last of his 19 NHL seasons with Dallas
in 2002-2003 but continued to reside in Phoenix. He said he had
been interested in running a minor league team for 18 months, but
wasn't sure what the situation would be until he met Suns president
Bryan Colangelo last fall.

The ECHL's restrictions on older players -- designed to focus on
development of strong NHL prospects -- interested him, Lemieux said,
and he became convinced of the league's player quality after seeing
a game in Las Vegas three weeks ago.