Belfast Giants players desert owner
The owner of Belfast Giants has been dramatically frozen out amid a bitter fall out with his players and staff.
Players from the Giants have signed for a new company that intends to use the same name and play at the same venue - the Odyssey Arena in the east of the city - but under a different management regime.
US investor Christopher Knight had bought the controlling shares in the Giants from long-term owner Jim Gillespie last November in a deal reputedly worth £145,000. But his reign hit the rocks after just two months when the company that operates the arena - the Odyssey Trust - moved against Mr Knight after claiming "major issues" came to its attention.
The Giants won the UK's Elite Ice Hockey League title last season and lie second in the current campaign.
In its first intervention at the start of this month, the Odyssey Trust activated a clause in its contract with the Giants over the use of the arena.
It is understood both the trust and Mr Knight then entered into a holding agreement, which would have enabled the team to continue playing at the Odyssey as long as the businessman committed to selling his 90% stake.
The trust offered to purchase the Giants' assets from Mr Knight - apparently for the £145,000 he had invested - but no deal was reached by last Friday - the deadline set by the trust. At that point the trust terminated the holding agreement - a move which meant the company owned by Mr Knight - Belfast Giants (2008) Ltd - could no longer play at the Odyssey Arena.
Within hours of that, the players wrote to Mr Knight claiming that their contracts were no longer in effect. The squad went on to play two games over last weekend - one of which was a charity fundraiser - on the understanding they were not contracted to any team.
Long-standing general manager of the Giants' Todd Kelman resigned from Mr Knight's company in the days prior to the players' action, and on Monday the Odyssey Trust formed a new Belfast Giants company, prompting the playing squad and other staff to sign up en masse. Mr Kelman has been taken on as a consultant with the trust.
That apparently leaves Mr Knight as the owner of a team with no home or players.