CRANBROOK, B.C. -- It likely didn't come as a shock to many living in Cranbrook, as they had heard the whispers, vocal undertones and rumours of the possibilty for months now.
On Tuesday morning, WHL commissioner Ron Robison was in Cranbrook along with Kootenay ICE governor Greg Fettes and GM Matt Cockell to speak with local media.
They confrmed the WHL's worst kept secret, that the WHL Board of Governors had approved the relocation of the Kootenay ICE franchise to Winnipeg, effective for the 2019-20 WHL Regular Season.
In October, a Cranbrook organization called a town hall meeting to encourage more support for the Kootenay ICE, amid a report the team might be moved to Winnipeg.
The club had averaged an attendance of about 2,350 through six home games early in the season, which was among the WHL’s lowest numbers. The Green Bay Committee hoped to sell 500 season tickets, and called on stakeholders, local politicians, executives from Tourism Cranbrook, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Business Association and other ICE supporters to attend.
At that time, WHL commissioner Rob Robison issued a statement saying - “The WHL is very pleased with the commitment Greg Fettes and his ownership group has made to Cranbrook and the Kootenay region since acquiring the ICE franchise in 2017.
“The WHL is looking forward to the Kootenay ICE continuing to operate this season in Cranbrook."
However, that was not to be, as the franchise was no longer deemed to be on positive footing in Cranbrook, as noted in a comment by Matt Cockell, President and General Manager of the Kootenay ICE.
"We understand this will be disappointing news for Cranbrook, unfortunately, our collective effort failed to achieve the results required to create confidence that the franchise could be viable in this market.”
The reason for the relocation was underscored by WHL Commissioner Ron Robison.
“The WHL appreciates the support we have received from the City of Cranbrook, the corporate community, and, in particular, hockey fans in the East Kootenay region. However, after many years of monitoring the operations of the Kootenay ICE, it is evident this franchise is not viable in the market moving forward. It is a difficult decision, but given low attendance trends and the support required to operate a WHL Club, it is necessary to move the franchise to a market where it can be sustainable on a long-term basis.”
Majority Owner and Governor of the Kootenay ICE, Greg Fettes, says the decision to announce the relocation before the end of the season, was "to allow the City of Cranbrook and the ICE to prepare for the future and put an end to the speculation surrounding the franchise."
The team will play the balance of the season in Cranbrook.
The Ice had relocated from Edmonton is 1998, under the ownership of the Chynoweth family. In April 2017, the WHL Board of Governors approved the transfer of ownership of the ICE franchise from the Chynoweth family to Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell. The team won the WHL championship and Memorial Cup in 2002 and also won league titles in 2000 and 2011.
Major junior hockey has not been in Winnipeg since the Warriors relocated to Moose Jaw in 1984.
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