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Kootenay Ice relocate to Winnipeg at end of WHL season
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2019 11:55AM MST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2019 1:34PM MST
Officials with the Western Hockey League announced on Tuesday that the Kootenay Ice will be moving to Winnipeg at the end of the current WHL season.
WHL Commissioner Ron Robison made the announcement from Cranbrook and will be in Winnipeg for another press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Robison said that attendance levels were not high enough to sustain a franchise in Cranbrook.
“When you look at this market and the size of the market overall I think that was a consideration to really see what the potential would be and when you think back to 2010, 2011, that was eight to nine seasons in which we assessed the franchise,” said Robison. “We stuck with this for a long time and I give the Chynoweth family a lot of credit.”
“When we had this opportunity, the league made it very clear to us that if we were to buy the franchise, we had to go 110 per cent to make it work here and we made that commitment and frankly we were all in and again, judge us by our actions. That said, we knew uphill battle and certainly we were aware of multiple different options, not just Winnipeg, if it wasn’t right. Really, Winnipeg, it kind of, the idea of getting serious about this possibility came when we took a step back in the summer and kind of felt momentum from there on,” said Greg Fettes, Kootenay Ice governor.
“The players have absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening today. We have a plan, we’ve had a plan since we bought the team to really build around a couple age groups and we’ve continued to do that. I think as it relates to our hockey team, as the season progressed, if you look at some players that might be last year of junior, there starts to be some discussions around being fair to them and what they would like to do and I think a lot of the moves were done in the best interests of respecting some players as well as trying to help our organization,” said Matt Cockell, Ice President & General Manager.
Fettes said that the community has been behind the team since the beginning and that he appreciates everything that has been done to support them.
“I’m sure the fans here, it’s a disappointing day for everybody in Cranbrook but the one thing that I want to make sure everybody understands is when we came here, our commitment was to make it work here the best we could. We came in eyes wide open, we knew there was going to be some challenges, but we went all in,” said Fettes. “We really invested ourselves in the community and to be frank, the community responded.”
Robison says this is only the second time in the last twenty years that a team has been relocated. The last time was when Chilliwack was moved to Victoria.
“We want to make sure, as indicated, that we do everything we can to keep the franchises where they are and that’s certainly our objective moving forward,” he said. “It is a challenging market, there’s no question. There’s a lot of competition in the sports entertainment industry in Winnipeg and from a league standpoint it was a market, the province of Manitoba, was a market we were underserved in so that was appealing, certainly, to us and in our discussions that was something we took into consideration."
The move will create realignment and Robison says the Swift Current Broncos will move to the central division next year to accommodate the Winnipeg franchise.
The Kootenay Ice have been based in Cranbrook, B.C. for the last 22 years. They have won a Memorial Cup and three WHL championships and will play out of a new arena in south Winnipeg next season.