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Fayetteville the Crowning Touch on Whalers Move

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Barring an11th-hour deal with theGreensboro Coliseum, the Hartford Whalers will move its temporaryNHL home to Fayetteville, the team's general manager said Friday.

A package to bring the Whalers to the smaller Cumberland CountyCrown Coliseum for a two-year temporary stay could be approved byWhalers owner Peter Karmanos as soon as Friday night or Saturday,Hartford GM Jim Rutherford said.

The team's permanent home will be Raleigh's new $120 millionarena, to be completed by 1999. A formal announcement on the team'smove to North Carolina will come early next week.

``It's pretty obvious that our focus has shifted to Raleigh.Youcan draw your own conclusions with that,'' Rutherford said whenasked if Columbus, Ohio was still in the running to get theWhalers.

``The temporary facility is the important issue now. Certainlythe communication between (Karmanos) and the people in Raleigh hasgone pretty well and they are getting closer to an understanding ofwhat a deal will be.''

The Centennial Authority, the group that oversees Raleigh's newarena, has scheduled a meeting early Monday morning, most likely tosign the lease agreement with Karmanos.

Rutherford toured the Crown - located about an hour southwestofRaleigh - and met with local officials Friday morning for an hourto hammer out a deal. He emerged from the meeting to say the onlynegative about his visit was the size of the arena, which seats10,000 for hockey.

That would be the smallest arena in the NHL, but Rutherfordpointed out that cities such as Tampa Bay, San Jose and Calgaryplayed in small buildings until their permanent arenas were built.

``This is nothing new. Tampa Bay did it, they played in afairgrounds facility there,'' Rutherford said.

He said the Crown could work financially if the team targetedcorporations, meaning the average ticket price would run $50-$60.The average NHL ticket last season was about $39.

``Obviously, this ticket price will be high here but as long aswe can sell out the building we can make this building work,''Rutherford said.

He felt confident the Crown would be sold out for all homegames.

``From an excitement point of view from the players you areplaying in a building where there is not an empty seat, so there isgreat atmosphere, it's special,'' he said. ``If I just do thenumbers off the top of my head, I know we're in a stronger positionthan we were last year financially playing in Hartford. I know thatthe players would accept this knowing there would not be any emptyseats.''

The Whalers lost $30 million over the first two seasons inHartford in the late '70s, and about $15 million while drawing anaverage of 13,657 fans last year, according to Chris Brown, theteam's media director.

The Whalers were set to play in the 21,500-seat GreensboroColiseum for two years, but a lease deal could not be worked out.Fayetteville got into the picture Monday after it was learned therewas a snag in Greensboro.

By DAVID DROSCHAK,AP Sports WriterCopyright ©1997 AssociatedPress. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,rewritten, or distributed.