By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports EditorThe WHL has confirmed that the Chilliwack Bruins have been sold.
In a terse two-paragraph news release issued Tuesday afternoon, the league announced that “it has granted conditional approval to a request from ownership of the Chilliwack Bruins for the sale of their WHL franchise.”
Furthermore, the release stated, “Until such time (as) all of the conditions related to the sale have been satisfied the WHL is not in a position to make any further statement on this transaction.”
The announcement arrived one day before Bruins fans had scheduled a rally for the front entrance to the team’s home arena, Prospera Place. That rally is to take place this evening at the front entrance to the arena.
It is believed that the Bruins’ majority owners — Darryl Porter, Brian Burke and Glen Sather each owns 25 per cent — have sold the franchise to RG Properties, a Vancouver-based real estate development and operating company that manages the Save-On Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria and Prospera Place in Kelowna.
The arena in Victoria is home to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, a franchise that is owned by RG Properties. The City of Victoria has a contract with RG Properties to manage the arena. That deal is to expire in 2036 and the City has told RG Properties that the contract will be extended to 2046 if it is able to attract a WHL franchise.
At present, the Salmon Kings are involved in the ECHL playoffs, playing a best-of-five first-round series with the Bakersfield Condors. Once the Salmon King’s season is over, an announcement is expected on the transfer of the Bruins.
Early in March, as speculation on the sale of the franchise heated up, WHL commissioner Ron Robison told the Chilliwack Times: “It’s clearly our desire to keep them where they are. From time to time we have to review relocation but that’s been very rare. There hasn’t been a relocation in our league for many, many years.”
The last franchise to pick up and move was the Edmonton Ice, which relocated to Cranbrook after the 1997-98 season.
Moray Keith and Jim Bond own the remaining 25 per cent of the Chilliwack franchise; Keith also holds the management contract on Prospera Centre, the home to the Bruins for the past five seasons.
Keith and Bond attempted to purchase the Bruins from their partners, reportedly for $7.75 million, but the offer was rebuffed.
Keith later confirmed to Jim Mullin, the sports director at Vancouver radio station CKNW, that the Bruins had been sold.
Meanwhile, Burke, in a letter through his lawyers to Mullin earlier this week, claimed that the WHL had “promised” a franchise to Graham Lee, the chief executive officer and president of RG Properties.
Burke also wrote that it was “. . . the WHL’s and Mr. Lee’s desire to have an established team in Victoria rather than an expansion team. This will not leave Chilliwack without a WHL team. The WHL is in the process of negotiating the movement of another WHL team to Chilliwack.”
The league has since placed a gag order on all WHL and team officials, an order that carried with it the threat of a heavy fine should anyone discuss the situation with the media.
Victoria last was in the WHL in 1993-94, after which the Cougars packed up and moved to Prince George. The Cougars had been in Victoria since 1971-72.
At this point, it isn’t known which WHL franchise, if any, might relocate to Chilliwack.
Dallas Thompson, the general manager of the Cougars, told the Prince George Citizen earlier this week that that franchsie isn’t going anywhere.
“This team is not for sale, and we’ve made that abundantly clear about a hundred times,” Thompson told the Citizen. “We’re exploring a way to make our business work here and relocation is something we don’t want to have happen and it’s not an option.
“We want to make this thing work in Prince George and that’s what we’re trying to do. Chilliwack is not an option. We can’t comment about anything that’s going on there.”
The Cranbrook-based Kootenay Ice is another team that has been rumoured as perhaps being interested in moving.
However, Jeff Chynoweth, the Ice’s president and GM, told The Daily News last night, via text, that the club is “definitely not going to Chilliwack.”
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