Mustangs ride off into the sunset

By Bob Brown

Now you can include the Rochester Mustangs among the so-called minor league franchises that once operated in Rochester.

The United States Hockey League's Mustangs ceased operations Tuesday, just like Rochester's three minor league basketball teams (Flyers, Renegades and Skeeters) and baseball team (Aces) did before them in the last 13 years.

The group of Rochester owners, which also own the USHL's Lincoln Stars, decided to pull the plug on the Mustangs, which operated as a Junior A franchise in Rochester for 17 years.


With the Mustangs gone, there are no USHL teams left in Minnesota. Jim Pflug, the vice president of both the Mustangs and the Stars, said Tuesday the league will probably go Tier 1 by next season and that the Mustangs didn't apply for Tier 1 status. He said that was the deciding factor in folding the franchise.

There are several areas where the Mustangs wouldn't have qualified for Tier 1 status, one being an average of 2,000 fans per home game. The Mustangs had never reached that figure in their history. They averaged only 500 a game this season.

The USHL has given the Mustangs owners a year to find a place to put a team. But that team won't be the Mustangs. There will be a dispersal draft later this month among the USHL teams to pick the Mustangs players.

"I guess we saw this coming," said Rochester Park and Recreation superintendent Roy Sutherland, who oversees the operation of the Rochester Olmsted Recreation Center where the Mustangs played. "The handwriting was on the wall."

Sutherland found out through the media that the Mustangs had ceased operations.

"I still can't believe this couldn't have worked in Rochester," he said.

"It should've worked. When was the last time you saw the Mustangs have an all-out season-ticket campaign? Rochester can't take the blame for what happened. I feel sorry for the die-hard Mustangs fans."

Sutherland said he never even met any of the new Mustangs owners who purchased the team from New York businessman Dan Nasshorn a year ago.


Nasshorn had owned the team for seven years. A local group owned and operated the Mustangs in their first nine years of existence.

The new owners shopped the Mustangs around before this past season, but couldn't find a city to put them in, so they kept them in Rochester.

Then the owners said there was a chance the Mustangs would stay in Rochester beyond this season if they averaged 2,000 fans a game. But at almost the same time they sold 10 Mustangs home games to visiting teams in an effort to boost revenue.

There was never a major marketing campaign this past season to boost Mustangs attendance in Rochester.

Pflug said the new owners didn't realize what a dismal state the Mustangs were in from the previous ownership.

"It was more than we could overcome," he said.

Pflug defended the selling of Mustangs home games.

"We couldn't have operated in Rochester without the revenue from that," he said. "That gave us an additional $100,000."


Even with that extra income, Pflug said the new Mustangs owners lost money, which is something they aren't used to. The Lincoln team, which averages 5,000 fans a game, has sold out every game in its six-year history.

Pflug said the Lincoln owners don't regret having purchased the Mustangs.

"A USHL team is a good investment," he said.

Pflug said the owners of the Mustangs will try to find a place to put a team in 2003-2004, but he said, "We still don't have any concrete offers."

Some of the Mustangs players weren't happy with the way this past season turned out. By playing so many games on the road, where it's difficult to win in the USHL, the Mustangs' record fell to 17-39-5, the second-worst mark in the league.

"Playing on the road cost us a chance at scholarships," Mustang goalie Yen-I Chen said.

No player on the Mustangs' final roster has received a college scholarship.

Mustangs head coach Steve Ross is out of town for the next six days and couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.


But he saw what was coming.

"The league goes Tier 1 and that's it for Rochester," he said after one of the Mustangs' last games.

It's already been speculated that a Junior B team will set up operations in Rochester, but Sutherland said he hasn't heard that.

"What I do know is we'll have no trouble selling the extra ice time at the Rec Center," he said.


USHL records

1985-86 32-14-2

; *1986-87 37-11-0


; *1987-88 39-7-2

; 1988-89 31-13-4

; *1989-90 34-14-0

; 1990-91 22-25-1

; 1991-92 17-29-2

; 1992-93 20-26-2

; 1993-94 20-27-1

; 1994-95 23-24-1


; 1995-96 24-21-1

; 1996-97 28-21-5

; 1997-98 21-31-4

; 1998-99 20-34-2

; 1999-00 26-28-4

; 2000-01 11-42-3

; 2001-02 17-39-5

; *Denotes years won national titles

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