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Hawks suitor swoops in

Minnesota-based marketing executive ready to make offer

The head of a Minneapolis sports and marketing company says he plans to make an offer for the Portland Winter Hawks.

But Pat Forciea doesn't want the impending sale negotiations to interfere with the Hawks' season, which enters the playoffs March 18.

'We'll be making a formal offer shortly,' says Forciea, who has been considering the acquisition for two months and had a face-to-face meeting last week with Ken Hodge, Winter Hawk president and general manager.

'We have a ways to go, but we're certainly able (financially) to acquire the team,' Forciea adds. 'We will continue to work with Ken to see if this can happen. If it were to happen, it would be a later-in-the-spring or summertime transaction.'

Over the years, various groups have approached the Hawks about buying the team, which has played in Portland since 1976. In 2002, a group led by Vancouver Canucks' executive Brian Burke came up short of Portland's selling price, estimated to be about $5 million.

Neither Forciea nor Hodge would discuss a sale price. 'I don't have an offer,' Hodge says. 'If I thought it was reasonable, I'd take it to my shareholders.'

But Hodge says the meeting with Forciea went well.

Forciea runs Agenzia, primarily an advertising and marketing agency, and formed Agenzia Sports about 18 months ago to acquire minor-league baseball and hockey franchises. Since then, Agenzia Sports has -acquired the U.S. Hockey League's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and, just recently, the league's Omaha franchise. For 20 years, he has been leading various businesses as a senior manager and consultant.

'He's very positive and upbeat,' Hodge says.

Forciea also met with Trail Blazer President Steve Patterson, and the two discussed terms of the Winter Hawks' lease, which has hamstrung the club in recent years.

'Our acquisition wouldn't be contingent' on changing the lease, Forciea says. 'We'd love to explore a formula that would strengthen the bottom line, you bet.'

Such as?

'We'd love to play more games in the Rose Garden,' he says. 'And my sense is the franchise might benefit a bit on the business side from some new energy, a fresh infusion of funds and more aggressiveness in sales, marketing and strategy.'

Hodge says he would want to continue managing the team Ñ 'I love what I'm doing' Ñ but the sides have not discussed the potential front-office setup.

'He's very legitimate as far as having the wherewithal to buy the team,' Hodge says of Forciea. 'It's an experienced group in sports promotion, and he has an ad agency. He has to pass a litmus test with our corporate lawyers and league officials.'

Forciea's minority partners in Agenzia, which also has an office in Naples, Fla., include Robert Naegele, Jr., chief executive officer and chairman of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.

Forciea has done considerable work for the Minnesota Twins, the University of Minnesota athletic department, Minnesota high schools and Chip Ganassi's CART and NASCAR operations.

He also is a general partner in some Florida restaurants. He has worked for nonprofit companies and managed political campaigns, including that of late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone in 1990.

Last fall, he heard about the Winter Hawks.

'Quite frankly, your franchise is one of the storied hockey franchises in North America,' Forciea says. 'We'd love to be a part of the future if we can.'

He has high praise for coach Mike Williamson, calling him one of hockey's best young coaches.

After making money for many years in Portland, the Winter Hawks have lost money the past two seasons and haven't fared well this year. Hodge had to lay off some employees this season, including longtime ticket manager John Copeland, but he feels the company has stabilized.

'We're trying to be very careful about the franchises we're pursuing,' Forciea says. 'We're not in this to lose money. We can't lose money.'