Pretty much every major Canadian city that has an NHL club has a secondary hockey team be it a major junior club – such as the case in cities like Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary – or an AHL minor pro club. Winnipeg of course falls into that description along with Toronto as the Jets and Moose take up residence at Bell MTS Place.
But if speculation is to be believed, Winnipeg may end up in a category of it’s own as the only Canadian city to have two professional clubs and one major junior club as rumors continue to swirl about a possible move of the Western Hockey League Kootenay Ice to Winnipeg.
It’s to the point now where most fans in Cranbrook, B.C. are so certain that it will happen that they’ve abandoned a season ticket drive that was fan created with no input or help from Ice ownership.
“The club has been silent and the commissioner, the WHL office, has been silent also, which is somewhat perplexing.” said John Hudak to CBC News in a story that was published late last week. Hudak continued that he’s heard from “substantial contacts” that the team’s move is all but assured.
The Kootenay Ice are co-owned by native Winnipeggers Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell who took over ownership of the club in 2017 from the Chynoweth family who had owned the team since it’s inception in 1995 when they were then known as the Edmonton Ice.
The Ice’s stay in Edmonton was brief and plagued with all kinds of arena and attendance issues as the Edmonton Oilers – not having any stake in the new WHL club – effectively ran the WHL club out of town within two seasons.
The Ice’s time in Kootenay has been somewhat better, dotted by WHL championships in 2000, 2002 and 2011 with a Memorial Cup victory in 2002, but attendance for the team has always ranked near the bottom of the league with the team usually filling Western Financial Place arena by less than 50% on a regular basis.
WFP Arena’s capacity for hockey is listed at 4,654 and the Ice averaged 2,442 fans per game last season.
A low attendance number doesn’t mean that a junior hockey club isn’t working out or not successful. The community owned Swift Current Broncos playing out of the 2,879 seat iPlex have typically averaged anywhere from 1,900 to 2,200 a season and either stayed at about even or in some rare seasons turned a small profit in each of the last several seasons.
Obviously a privately owned club in a much bigger market would do better, but it’s not unreasonable to think that drawing four to five thousand fans per game would put a Winnipeg WHL franchise in pretty good shape.
How Much Would The Jets Be Involved?
Matt Cockell does have ties to True North Sports And Entertainment as he filled the role of Vice President, Corporate Partnerships between 2015 and 2017, so this wouldn’t completely be like the situation the team had in Edmonton where outsiders – albeit from a well known and respected hockey family – “competed” against the Oilers for fan’s entertainment money. TNSE has toyed with the idea of a junior team in Winnipeg in past fan surveys even as recently as this past summer.
Would they be willing to play nice with a junior team that wasn’t completely owned by them? Would it matter if rumors of a new 5,000 seat arena being built in the southeast edge of the city as was suggested by the CBC.ca report?
Would a WHL club work in a city that already has NHL and AHL teams?
What do you think? Can a WHL team co-exist in the city of Winnipeg with the Jets and Moose? Winnipeg is a hockey mad city, but is asking it to support three teams a little much, or is there just enough interest that a WHL team – if tickets are priced correct – could carve out a piece of the Winnipeg hockey pie?