The Ultimate Fantasy Hockey League’s flagship franchise is changing hands in a record-setting sale.
The Gators and their UFAHL affiliate Caimans have been acquired by the Conacher family — headed up by former NHL player Cory Conacher and his father Dave — from the UFFS founders for $80K USD, eclipsing the previous record of $75K USD for the Red Army and Dynasty franchise sales from July. Ironically, Red Army defeated the Gators in this year’s Klein Cup Final, while Dynasty was bought by Conacher’s former Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Ryan Malone.
“We are confident that this franchise is going into good hands and a good family,” said Tony Charanduk, president and co-founder of Ultimate Franchise Fantasy Sports. “When we started the UFHL and officially launched UFFS in January 2020, the UFFS founders retained ownership of one franchise, the Gators, as a show of good faith by investing in our own project. Our intent was always to sell this franchise when the time was right. The Conacher family expressed interest in the Gators and it turned out to be a perfect fit.”
This sale is significant for the price — raising the bar again on valuations for the 32 franchises in this NHL-equivalent professional fantasy sports league — but also for welcoming another real world hockey family into the fold with UFFS. In addition to Cory, who played 203 career NHL games and still plays professionally in Switzerland, his brother Shane will be involved as a fellow pro who spent three-plus seasons between the AHL and ECHL. As will their sister Jaclyn, who played CIS women’s hockey, along with her husband Ryan Schmelzer, who is currently captaining the AHL’s top team, the Utica Comets, and will also be serving as the Gators’ general manager going forward.
This is a family venture and everyone will have their role while bonding over the entertainment value of following their franchise’s success in the UFHL.
“With Cory in Switzerland most of the year and my daughter Jaclyn living with Ryan in the U.S., this is a real opportunity to bring everyone together and share this experience. For me, this is the most important aspect,” said Dave Conacher, the patriarch. “These kids are competitive as crazy, so it will be fun for me to see how well they perform against some of the seasoned veterans and quality ownership groups in the UFHL.”
Schmelzer has aspirations of working in hockey ops following his playing career — he is only 28 years old but already planning for the future — and considers the UFHL an ideal place to practice and sharpen his skills in the most realistic and in-depth fantasy league.
“When this opportunity was presented to me, it immediately piqued my interest,” said Schmelzer, whose Comets improved to 16-1 on the season Wednesday night and are back in action tomorrow in Bridgeport, CT. Utica is Ryan’s primary focus, obviously, but taking the reins for the Gators will allow him to pursue another passion on the professional level in a unique situation as an active player. Perhaps he’ll even trade for a current teammate like Nolan Foote or Alexander Holtz at some point — worth noting, there are no New Jersey Devils’ players or prospects on the Gators’ roster as of today.
“Honestly, what’s not interesting about the UFHL? With how closely it reflects the NHL, it’s a perfect opportunity to learn the ropes of what being an NHL GM is like — something I aspire to be one day,” Schmelzer disclosed. “I’ve always played fantasy sports for fun, but taking it the next step is exciting. Not to mention with the way the world is evolving, it will be valuable to learn and understand how the blockchain and NFT technologies work. The family and I are eager to get going and have big plans for the Gators.”
Cory is busy playing, too — now a go-to guy for Bern in the NL and also representing Canada at the Spengler Cup in recent years — but he is looking forward to being hands-on with the Gators as well.
“The Gators will be an exciting project for my family and I to experience together, in hopes of creating a team and organization that will one day be very recognizable in the real world,” said Cory, who led Canada in scoring when they won the 2015 Spengler Cup and also led Tampa Bay’s affiliate to a Calder Cup championship in 2012, among his career highlights to date.
“For me, the UFHL platform is the perfect opportunity to stay passionate for the sport I love even after my playing career is over,” added Cory, who turns 32 this month. “I am excited to utilize some of the knowledge I’ve learned over the years from different GMs, coaches and hockey personnel to put together a team that will compete for many years to come.
“Furthermore, I also see the importance in learning this new type of technology and becoming more aware of the crypto world and how valuable certain NFTs and digital athletes can be.”
More and more real world hockey people are getting involved with the UFHL — including the recent signings of Ethan Bear, Braden Schneider and Nolan Allan as Digital Athlete NFTs — and the fantasy pros will be thrilled to rub elbows with another real pro in Schmelzer. He’ll get a warm reception and there will be no taking advantage of this “rookie” who has played with and against hundreds of NHLers over four seasons as a leader and mentor in the AHL.
The Conacher family is inheriting a quality roster with the makings of a perennial contender, having been a Top 10 franchise in each of the first two UFHL seasons. The Gators are in good shape again this season, looking better on paper than in the standings thus far with injuries to key players leaving them just outside the Top 10 but still comfortably in a playoff position at American Thanksgiving.
Led by franchise player Nathan MacKinnon, who returned from injury this week, and backstopped by Vezina candidate Jacob Markstrom, the Gators will push the UFHL-leading Royals and West Coast Express in the Howe Division for the remainder of this season and the foreseeable future.
Matt Gunn had been the Gators’ GM since January — hired by the founders prior to the start of last season — and successfully put his stamp on the roster, assembling a supporting cast around MacKinnon with the acquisitions of Markstrom, Claude Giroux, William Karlsson, Tyson Barrie, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk, among others, including top defence prospects Scott Perunovich and Robin Salo.
“I was very impressed with the roster upon first glance. We would like to have a little more cap space going forward, so we will get creative in doing that, but the roster is in great shape,” said Schmelzer, who has been networking with Gunn throughout the week to get the lay of the land in the UFHL. “I can’t thank Matt Gunn enough for the job he did getting the Gators in the position they are now. Matt has been a pleasure to work with and has helped make this transition seamless. I look forward to building relationships with the other GMs in the league.”
Off the ice, the Conacher family will be assuming control of the Gators’ branding and marketing, while also wading into that new world of NFTs, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology — additional areas of interest for Dave, who is retired from a career in finance and resides in their hometown of Burlington, Ont.
“I’ve been learning about and investing in crypto and NFTs on a small scale since I sold my business a couple years ago,” he said. “After speaking with Larry and Tony about UFFS, along with their passion and vision for the future, it was a no-brainer to take this interest to the next level. Not to mention the investment potential, I saw this as a real opportunity for our family to learn more about blockchain, crypto and NFT technology.
“On behalf of our family, I would like to thank Larry, Tony and all the founders of UFFS for their support and confidence in us and welcoming us into the UFFS family. The Gators are hungry!”
The Conacher family was fond of the Gators — both the roster and the brand — and wound up pursuing that franchise over other ownership opportunities within the UFHL. The Blizzard, Monarchs and Mystics are also entertaining offers in the present, and several franchises would be willing to expand their ownership groups with shareholders to help fund their operating budgets as the stakes continue to get higher.
“Every franchise is always for sale on the UFFS platform,” said Charanduk, noting half the UFHL’s franchises have been sold to date through healthy turnover as a result of rising valuations. “Nobody has left disappointed. All the outgoing owners have been very happy with their return on investment, including a lot of our early adopters who got in for around $200 USD. Everyone enjoys the gameplay but many are also in it for the investment side. Some are holding out for six figures, hopefully seven figures in the future.
“The UFHL has been getting more mainstream attention lately but we are just getting started here. The Conacher family is still getting in on the ground floor,” assured Charanduk. “UFFS is constantly evolving and expanding as the platform continues to scale and enter new spaces such as eSports and metaverses. Now we’ve got staking for our Score Coin (SCO), with a Sports Swap also in the works for next year. Our NFT marketplace, Ultimate Sports NFTs, just launched and more athletes are signing up every month. It just keeps getting bigger and better. Exciting times ahead!”
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