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Spartans, RRRink end contract

The Southern Oregon Spartans have every intention to return to play come the 2022-23 season and make their long-awaited debut in the United States Premier Hockey League.

It just won’t be taking place at The RRRink in Medford.

The Spartans, who announced last month that they opted out of the 2021-22 season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and ever-changing restrictions in Oregon, and The RRRink have ended their working relationship by not renewing the Spartans’ contract.

The Spartans have already moved all of their equipment out of The RRRink, according to owner and head coach Dylan Martin — which is well before the current contract ends on July 31.

“When we announced we weren’t going to play, The RRRink made the business decision to not renew our contract going forward,” Martin said. “I don’t know if that’s completely severed our relationship between the Spartans and The RRRink — you never know how things can turn out different in the future and maybe play in that facility in the future. But, in the meantime, we’re not going to let the Spartans die.”

Terry Smith, a consultant for The RRRink, confirmed that the Spartans not competing during the 2021-22 season played a major role in the decision to not renew the contract for another year.

“The Spartans ended (the relationship) themselves when they said they weren’t going to have a 2021-22 season,” Smith said. “Once that was made known to us and made public, we terminated their contract.”

Martin said the USPHL — which has been competing for much of the 2021 calendar year — was fully supportive of the Spartans’ decision to not play in the 2021-22 season.

The Spartans first joined the USPHL in April 2020.

“We were really supported in this decision by the United States Premier Hockey League and the division that we’re in,” Martin said. “We had league meetings in Las Vegas a while ago, and they supported our decision and that it was in the best interest of the Spartans, the best interest of the league itself, that we don’t play this season.”

The fact that the Spartans won’t be playing at The RRRink doesn’t necessarily mean the plan now is to suddenly move the team out of the Rogue Valley, either.

In fact, if it’s up to Martin, it’s going to be the complete opposite.

Martin, who along with his wife Brie has owned the Spartans since June 2019, wants to keep the team here in Medford and build a brand new rink and team facility as part of a multi-venue project.

“The Spartans are alive and well, so it’s just about finding a way to play here in the valley — and that would be to build our own facility,” Martin said. “We’ve already partnered with a couple of nonprofits and we’re going to start our own nonprofit, and we’re going to see if we can bring a big complex to town.”

The RRRink, which opened back up for public skating earlier this month, still has youth hockey using the facility this summer.

And, according to Smith, they have an established junior team akin to the Spartans that they have lined up to fill the void.

“The big thing is there’s nothing really to change the past. The Martins decided not to be part of The RRRink. They never brought us into the conversations, they just laterally decided not to have a season,” Smith said. “So, The RRRink decided to look ahead and get together with an ownership and a team that we hope can be very attractive and solid going into the future.”

Martin said he has already had meetings with Medford city officials about building a new facility, which would have a larger seating capacity than The RRRink.

As part of the process, the Spartans have partnered with a pair of local nonprofits as well as started their own nonprofit, according to Martin, with the end vision toward getting something built.

“As far as what it will take to get something like this built, now we’re in the phase of the funding of it,” Martin said. “My wife and I, we knew the Spartans outgrew that facility a long time ago. It’s nice to sellout games and everything, but what if we can sellout games at a high capacity. We’ve been working on this project for a while now.”

According to Martin, if the Spartans were to break ground on a new facility today, it would take a year and a half to be completed.

“The timing of the building is very important because we don’t want our grand opening to be in July, which is not hockey season,” Martin said.

The Spartans have not played a game since November 2020 when the Oregon Health Authority’s reopening pause forced them to cancel the 2020-21 season just after it got started.

Martin wanted to avoid a situation like what happened in November, when players were forced to see their time with the Spartans end just a few short weeks after it started.

“Back in May, the restrictions were still really tight, and the last thing we wanted to do was bring 25 guys to town, some of them traveling from overseas, just to shut down early,” Martin said. “That really wasn’t fair to the kids last year — we only lasted six games and then we had to trade them all away. That’s not fair to them, and we wanted to avoid that this season.”

With no Spartans games being played, Martin said he has been putting a larger focus on the developmental side of things on top of the work being done to try and get a new rink built.

The more development of local talent, Martin said, will help improve the chances of players from the Rogue Valley getting a chance to play for the Spartans in the future.

“I’ve only had one local kid play for me,” Martin said, “and while I like bringing in the Europeans and the Canadians — and I’ll still do that — I would like to see that number of one grow to four or five, six or seven local players.”

If the Spartans do end up having a stronger local presence the next time the team takes the ice, it may well come at the team’s new rink.

Martin hopes that adding another sports facility, following in the footsteps of U.S. Cellular Community Park and the upcoming construction of a 160,000-square-foot aquatic center — the Rogue Credit Union Community Complex — will be another piece to the puzzle in making Medford a destination for large sporting events.

“There’s so much momentum with the soccer fields being built, the aquatic center is supposed to break ground, so the (Southern Oregon Sports Commission) and the city, we feel like we want to make Medford the sports destination of the West,” Martin said. “To do that, you need the facilities to host those events and be the sports hub of the West, so that’s what we’re working on currently.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Following the Southern Oregon Spartans canceling their 2021-22 season, The RRRink decided not to renew their contract with the junior hockey club..(PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SOUTHERN OREGON SPARTANS)