The good old Western Hockey League, hopes and dreams come here to either live or die for young hockey players. Make no mistake, playing in the ‘Dub is a big deal.
Now playing in the ‘Dub for your hometown team. That is something to behold and quite possibly something that is coming true next season for a few Kootenay Ice players from Manitoba if the latest set of rumors are to be believed.
Last season after years of ownership (since 1995) the famous Chynoweth family sold the Ice to 24/7 Intouch founder Greg Fettes & his business partner Matt Cockell.
Mr.Cockell (President & GM) announced via the teams website (May 1st 2017) a new look for the Ice which made their Yeti logo look fierce and highly marketable along with a new color scheme. Added to this Cockell said ” The future is now. We see tremendous opportunity to engage the community and create an experience that our players and fans will embrace & have fun with. It is a very exciting time. This is the city of Cranbrook & East Kootenay Region’s team. We are approaching every decision with that in mind. This is ICE country and the community will be the driving force behind our team. ”
With dwindling attendance numbers (1754 per game in 2015-16) the new Ice ownership group had to pull the fans back in. They did just that, jumping up by 42%, however, they still had the third lowest attendance in the league averaging roughly 40% capacity per night.
The Ice pushed hard to achieve 2,500 season ticket holders for the 2018/19 season but could only secure an estimated 1,924 total.
Losing money at a ridiculous rate (six figures per season for a minimum of three straight seasons) and sagging attendance in comparison to the remainder of the league despite the Green Bay Committee’s efforts to put butts in seats, things weren’t looking so good.
Which brings us to media reports from last month, the Green Bay Committee (fan base group) was working hard on season ticket drives BUT seemingly they weren’t getting any support from the teams new owners. On November 14th 2018 Global News Winnipeg reported that John Hudak (Green Bay Commitee Marketing Director) was becoming frustrated with the Ice and the speculation of the team moving was harming their progress in locking up fans for upcoming seasons.
Hudak said ” it’s probably the single biggest thing (speculation of moving) that has impacted our ability to lock up some season ticket sales. Why should we support this if these people aren’t going to remain in the community? We haven’t heard from the Ice ownership if it will remain, their silence on the subject has become deafening.”
Now the rumors weren’t all that unfounded. The league’s offices refused to make comments on the speculation and not a peep was made from the Ice. Meanwhile in Winnipeg, a new 3 rink arena was in process of being made for the Rink Hockey Academy while a 4,500 seat arena was being considered in the same area.
The Green Bay Committee has since shut down operations citing that they can no longer commit to the team.
Which brings us to today, the Winnipeg Free Press & other news sources for the WHL have ramped up the rumor windmill into a frenzy stating that an official announcement will be made by Mr. Fettes & Co that the Kootenay Ice will be indeed leaving for Winnipeg NEXT year.
The rumored arena in the RM of MacDonald (south Winnipeg) is coming to fruition and the Ice will likely play the next two seasons out of the University of Manitoba’s Wayne Fleming Arena (Seats 1,400 plus standing room) until the new facility is complete.
But it’s not that simple. Unless the vote was already had at the last Board of Governors meeting, the Ice still have to get 2/3 approval from the very same board. The Winnipeg Free Press rarely gets it wrong when it comes to hockey so it’s likely true that all of this is actually happening.
Can Winnipeg handle another hockey team? Well, with the Winnipeg Jets & Manitoba Moose already in play in the downtown core and the new Winnipeg WHL team (we’ll touch on names in a moment) playing out of the south end of the city, I think it can.
Winnipeg is experiencing a small population boom & is becoming a more attractive city in general. The South end of the city is also a more wealthy and vibrant area with young families looking for good entertainment during the cold winter months. A friendly rivalry with the very established Brandon Wheat Kings (2.5 hours north of Winnipeg) will help. The new arena also won’t have the parking issues of the Bell MTS Center which will also assist in attracting new fans.
Winnipeg hasn’t had a WHL team since the Warriors left for Moose Jaw back in 1984. The Warriors survived just four seasons playing out of the old Winnipeg Arena.
Currently there is a team in Winnipeg with the Ice name, the Winnipeg Ice AAA playing out of the MFMHL. I’m going to assume that a new team name is going to happen. The frozen Yeti look is very much a BC icon but not so much in Manitoba. The fans here like to stick with tradition when it comes to team names the Winnipeg Jets, Manitoba Moose, Winnipeg Goldeyes teams are all rehashes of former franchises.
With that being said it sure feels like the Winnipeg Falcons name could resurface sometime soon OR they could still use the Ice name and find a different logo that still encompasses the name given that they did put out a ton of money into the rebranding of the Kootenay Ice.
The current team has four Manitobans in goaltender Duncan McGovern, Cole Muir, Jordan Chudley & Zachary Patrick. Head coach James Patrick is also from Winnipeg.
The announcement of the team moving to Winnipeg is expected to happen this Monday, December 10th.