(CN) – A pee-wee hockey league in Dallas is “stacking the deck” to dominate youth hockey in north Texas, an ice rink operator claims in Tarrant County court.
Grapevine Ice House, which operates a rink at an outlet mall in Grapevine, says much of its business stems from youth hockey teams, but that structure is threatened by a new league that formed earlier this month.
The newly formed Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League will only welcome local teams based out of rinks affiliated with the Dallas Stars NHL franchise, according to the complaint.
Grapevine says the new league will compete with the older North Texas Hockey League, but unlike its competitor, will only consist of top tier teams linked to Dr. Pepper StarCenter rinks. Grapevine Ice House is not one of those rinks.
This development will allegedly cause Grapevine to lose its two current clients: the Lone Star Wolves and the Dallas Ice Jets. The Dallas Stars have already invited the Lone Star Wolves to join if they leave the Grapevine Ice House rink, according to the complaint.
Grapevine says USA Hockey oversees amateur hockey in the United States, and with its affiliate, Texas Amateur Hockey Association (TAHA), sanctions youth competitions in Texas.
“Not only have the Dallas Stars rendered meaningful competition practically impossible for the organizations left behind by creating an exclusionary league, they have further, upon information and belief, colluded with USA Hockey and TAHA to reclassify and restructure Texas youth hockey such that only ‘Tier I and Tier II’ level play (USA Hockey’s top tier designation for teams with the most promising players) recognized by the governing bodies will take place within the new league created by the Dallas Stars and only within a Dr. Pepper StarCenter, and not within the remnants of the North Texas Hockey League, including Grapevine Ice House,” the complaint states (parentheses in original). “In other words, even if the remaining rinks and teams within the North Texas Hockey League could restore a sustainable competitive structure and continue operations, the level of competition within the league could never be recognized as Tier I or Tier II, or top tier, from the standpoint of USA Hockey/TAHA.”
Grapevine says it will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next year, while the Dallas Stars will gain financially from the new league.
“Although the youth hockey league structure that the Dallas Stars are seemingly making an effort to totally control is ostensibly a not-for-profit operation, there is in fact a tremendous amount of money to be made by the Dallas Stars – and one or more individuals who work for the Dallas Stars – by stacking the deck to ensure that the majority of quality teams and players in the area have no choice but to play in Dallas Stars-affiliated ice rinks,” the complaints states. “By dictating that USA Hockey/TAHA-sanctioned upper tier hockey in north Texas must be played in a Dr. Pepper StarCenter facility, the Dallas Stars guarantee themselves a substantial revenue stream at the expense of those rinks that they have excluded from their new league (and excluded from USA Hockey/TAHA’s highest tiers).”
The rink operator claims that Dallas Stars president and CEO Jim Lites has ownership interest in two or more Dr. Pepper StarCenter rinks. Lites’ subordinate, Keith Andresen, also acted as “the architect of the new Dallas Stars Travel Hockey League,” despite his conflicting roles as a member of the board of directors for the North Texas Hockey League and as a TAHA section president, according to the suit.
Grapevine Ice House wants to bar development of the new league and restructured tier system. It seeks an injunction, declaratory judgment and damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and tortious interference.
Dallas Sports & Entertainment, DSE GP, TAHA, USA Hockey, Andresen, and Lites are named as defendants.
Grapevine is represented by Jeffrey Allen of Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller in Arlington.