Saturday, February 26, 2011

A look into the Ice's crystal ball . . .

OK. You’re Jeff Chynoweth, the president, governor and general manager of the Kootenay Ice.
You are feeling frustrated because, while you continually ice a competitive team, attendance continues to slide, as do advertising revenues.
You voiced your opinion the other day, in an interview with Regan Bartel, the radio voice of the Kelowna Rockets.
In that interview, you said that you hoped it wouldn’t come to it but that you just might have to start exploring your options.
You didn’t explain what those options might be, so here’s a few guesses at what’s running through your head. . . .
1. Remain in Cranbrook. You signed a 15-year lease a couple of years ago, but can you continue to be competitive while averaging 2,400 fans per game? And what happens, as you mentioned in the interview, should your team run into a rough season or two?
2. Sell the franchise. Considering that the Chynoweth name has been part of the WHL for so long and considering that the Ice is a private business, this is a non-starter.
3. Relocate to Winnipeg. The Manitoba capital is home to the MTS Centre, a 15,015-seat facility in which the AHL’s Manitoba Moose plays. Winnipeg hasn’t been home to a WHL franchise since the Warriors scooted off to Moose Jaw after the 1983-84 season. Other than in the early days of the WHL, when the Winnipeg Jr. Jets were competitive, major junior hockey has never been a big hit in the city. In fairness, though, Winnipeg really has never home to a top-tier WHL franchise.
3. Relocate to Wenatchee, Wash. The 4,300-seat Town Toyota Center is home to the NAHL’s Wenatchee Wild, which plays in the junior A North American league. Former Everett Silvertips head coach John Becanic left his role as assistant coach with the Vancouver Giants earlier this season to take over as the Wild’s head coach. . . . Not that long ago, there was a move afoot to get a BCHL franchise into Wenatchee but it died in a mess of redtape involving USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and Hockey BC.
4. Relocate to Billings, Montana. Well, why not? The city once was home to the Bighorns (1977-82), a franchise that went on to become the Nanaimo Islanders, who turned into the New Westminster Bruins, who morphed into the Tri-City Americans. The Rimrock Auto Arena has 10,000 seats.
5. Relocate to Great Falls, Montana. The 6,165-seat Four Seasons Arena was the home of the WHL’s Great Falls Americans in 1979-80. The Americans didn’t survive even one season, but gave birth to one of the great anecdotes in WHL history. Les Jackson was the GM/head coach and the roster included D Derek Davis. One day, Jackson was working the phones while the team was practising when Davis came off the ice and into the office. Jackson looked up and Davis said: “We’re in trouble.” To which Jackson replied: “What’s wrong?” . . . Davis said: “The pylons are up, 2-0.”
6. Relocate to Boise, Idaho, or maybe take a look at Fresno, Calif. And what about Anchorage, Alaska? Those three cities all have been mentioned at one time or another as potential homes for WHL franchises. However, it has been a long time since there have been rumours within the WHL concerning possible franchise relocation to those centres. . . . At one time, the Brandon Wheat Kings were within an eyelash of ending up in Boise, which is home to the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. . . . Fresno used to be mentioned on occasion, while Bob Vranckaert, an Anchorage businessman who once owned the Victoria Cougars, talked at one time of moving that franchise to Alaska.
7. Relocate to Victoria. For the last few years, the word in the WHL has always been that the league wouldn’t go back to Vancouver Island unless it could put two teams there. Conventional thinking, then, was that the WHL would like to put franchises in Victoria, which is home to the 7,000-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, which houses the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, and Nanaimo. However, Nanaimo doesn’t have a facility that meets WHL standards. The Salmon Kings’ franchise is owned by RG Properties, which also runs the arena in Victoria as well as Prospera Place in Kelowna.
So what’s it likely to be? I would suggest that it will be the status quo, at least for the short term.
However, Victoria has to look awfully intriguing, and, hey, why not Winnipeg?
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