Wednesday, Dec. 10, 1997 | 1:25 a.m.
Hockey on wheels is back.
The Oklahoma Coyotes, a dormant Roller Hockey International team, is moving to Las Vegas. The franchise already has opened an office here and intends to play at the Thomas & Mack Center starting in June if and when the 1998 season opens.
Vice president of operations and general manager Mike Talkington is confident the Coyotes will not face the same demise as the Las Vegas Flash, an RHI team that folded in 1994 after one season.
"Professional roller hockey has been around for five years and, honestly, there were a lot of cities that jumped in a bit too soon," Talkington said. "They didn't wait or show the patience required.
"It's a very young sport. It really takes ownership with pockets that can weather the storm for a few years. People didn't realize the bankroll involved."
The Coyotes are operated by Chandar Sports Nevada, a San Diego-based company that specializes in sports entertainment facilities. The company also considered moving the Coyotes to Phoenix before settling on Las Vegas.
"There are over 3,000 kids playing registered roller hockey throughout the rinks in town," Talkington said.
The Coyotes want to play all 12 of their home games at the T&M. Talkington also claimed Las Vegas has the inside track to host the RHI all-star game either at the T&M or the MGM Grand Garden.
To sustain operations, Talkington wants to sell 3,000 to 5,000 tickets per game.
"You can't come in right away and make money," said Talkington, who noted the average crowd in Oklahoma City was 2,200. "Las Vegas is a real fickle town in the way fans support teams.
"But the ticket price will be far less than any other sports franchise that's ever been here. It'll be about the same price as going to a movie."
The official announcement of the Coyotes' head coach, mascot and logo is planned for Jan. 16. The team will practice at the Crystal Palace on West Flamingo Road.
The Coyotes will not go out of their way to sign players from the International Hockey League's Las Vegas Thunder, Talkington said, but "We'll entertain that idea. There are a lot of crossovers."
He added that he already has been contacted by a handful of players with National Hockey League experience.
But even after the Oklahoma franchise officially moves to Las Vegas, it is uncertain if it will ever skate here.
The RHI could be on the verge of folding. Anaheim, Los Angeles and New Jersey appear financially unstable. Those are three of the RHI's strongest franchises. If they are unable to continue operations, their absence virtually would obliterate the league.
"There will be 12 teams in the division," Talkington said. "So there is no concern there."
Coyotes part-owner John O'Shea did not return a message placed Tuesday at his New York office.
Additional calls placed at RHI headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., went unanswered. Messages were not returned.