Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The saga of the Chilliwack Bruins . . .

Today, we bring you a must-read from the Chilliwack Times. Actually, it is almost in its entirety a press release issued by the Chiefs Development Group, explaining their side of the deal that had the Chilliwack Bruins sold and relocated to Victoria.
If you have been following this saga, you won’t want to miss this one. It is right here.
Moray Keith has told the Chilliwack Times that he will bring “entertaining, winning and respectful” hockey to Chilliwack before the start of the 2011-12 season.
That story is right here.
Meanwhile, Rob Henderson, who covers the Brandon Wheat Kings for the Brandon Sun, wrote this column earlier this week:
Dear Chilliwack, welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You.
With all the tact of Homer Simpson, from whom the above phrase was adapted, the Western Hockey League broke off its five-year relationship with Chilliwack, B.C., last week, shacking up instead with a more attractive suitor in Victoria.
The move came as a surprise to no one. The magic had been fading in Chilliwack, with attendance for Bruins games dropping from an average of about 4,500 per contest in the first couple of seasons to a little over 3,000 this winter. And fans in the Fraser Valley had been flirting with the American Hockey League’s new franchise in nearby Abbotsford.
Rumours of an imminent breakup swirled for more than a month, so when the official announcement came last Wednesday that the Bruins had been sold and would move to the B.C. capital, the news wasn’t half as interesting as the revelations that came out in the following days as each of the parties involved told their side of the story.
Among them was the league’s role in facilitating — one might say orchestrating — the move.
It turns out the WHL’s board of governors agreed back in February of 2009 to attempt to bring Victoria back into the fold, preferably by relocating an existing team. The Bruins’ falling attendance and discord among its ownership group made them the prime candidates.
Now, the WHL is well within its rights to pick and choose owners and place its franchises wherever it pleases. But the unwritten rule in sports is that the priority when selling a team should be attempting to find new owners who want to keep the franchise where it is.
League commissioner Ron Robison paid lip service to this while reports of the sale leaked out, telling the Chilliwack Progress in early March that for the Bruins to play in Chilliwack in 2011-12 was “certainly our intent and we haven’t considered anything different at this point.”
The Progress reports that Robison sang a different tune after the deal was done, telling the newspaper that once the ownership group decided on Jan. 13 to sell the team, local offers were not going to be accepted, explaining away the earlier interview by saying, “we were in the early stages of discussions then and we could not comment on what was taking place.”
Apparently he and I have much different opinions of what constitutes a comment.
In other words, a late bid to buy the Bruins and keep them in Chilliwack by minority owners Moray Keith and Jim Bond — reputed to be higher than the Victoria offer — never stood a chance. Perhaps Keith and Bond, who operate Prospera Centre where the Bruins played, knew that when they made the offer and they have also been blamed for failing to renegotiate a lease more fitting of the club’s declining fortunes. We may never fully know their role in the team’s departure.
Likewise, we may never know how much blame to place on Darryl Porter, Brian Burke and Glen Sather, the trio that held a controlling interest in the team.
True, Porter, as a league governor, surely knew a sale would result in the team moving to Victoria. However, I have a hard time blaming someone for cutting bait on an investment that wasn’t producing the expected returns and their hands were clearly tied. Already vilified by Tri-City Americans fans for attempting to move that franchise before being granted the Bruins as an expansion team, Porter could have pocketed more money by selling to local investors while still being able to show his face in Chilliwack.
Given the options, I know which one I’d choose.
One thing we do know after this whole fiasco is that fans in every less-than-glamorous market should not take for granted their relationship with their local team.
After all, we’ve already seen that the WHL has a wandering eye.

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