We are learning more details on the relocation of the Kootenay Ice franchise from Cranbrook to Winnipeg. Just like any move, there are pros and cons to the whole scenario.
In an interview with Matt Cockell, president and general manager of the Ice, he touched on some finer details that weren’t so clear in the 50 Below Sports and Entertainment Group’s press conference earlier this week.
- The Ice have signed a Letter of Intent with the Winnipeg South Blues (Jr A), and the MJHL
- 50 Below Sports and Entertainment have a partnership with the RHA Academy Program (CSSHL)
- The Wayne Flemming Arena at the University of Manitoba is where the team will play its first two seasons, it currently holds 1400 in seating capacity
- The relocation to Winnipeg was announced mid-season so that the fans in Cranbrook could celebrate 21 years of hockey.
- Current jerseys, team name, and logo will all stay the same in the move.
The Letter of Intent is what Cockell called “a first step towards a purchase agreement.” An intent with some business parameters so 50 Below Sports and Entertainment could purchase the Manitoba Jr. Hockey League’s, Winnipeg South Blues.
He added, “we’re now working through the finer details towards an agreement that will be subject to the MJHL’s board of governors approval which we expect to happen in the next couple months.”
As for how it looks to work between all the teams being the RHA Academy, the Winnipeg South Blues, and the WHL Winnipeg Ice, Cockell didn’t give too many details but did mention, “the teams will be connected from a facility and development perspective.”
The most interesting statement is that Cockell said, “I don’t think there’s any advantage player wise, as it relates to the Ice, but I do think it creates a level of inspiration among the athletes getting better, one that’s unprecedented in Canada.”
For WHL fans wondering if the team will be able to fill seats in a city with now three major sports franchises, Cockell is not stressed one bit it will be an issue, calling Winnipeg Canada’s potential hockey capital.
Cockell pointed to current Portland Winterhawks forward Cody Glass, and other current and former WHL players never having a chance to play in their hometown of Winnipeg, MB.
If you were worried about fan support, you might want to hold onto that thought as the Ice just recently launched a purely online campaign where fans could put forward a deposit putting them in a priority line for tickets. The URL titled https://www.winnipegice.ca/ was released at 9 am CST on January 29th, just short of 24 hours later, Cockell reported they had already received over 1,000 deposits.
Initially it might not seem like much, however when the team is poised to play its first two seasons in a 1400 capacity Wayne Flemming Arena barring an expansion which is “in the works.” It’s something to watch for sure.
If you can get your hands on tickets in this arena, the intimacy of a Major Junior product in such an arena should be nothing short of incredible. A new video scoreboard amongst some other capital project upgrades are set to be completed before the commencement of the 2019-20 WHL season with more details soon on the horizon.
After the first two seasons, the new events centre set to be constructed is expected to be one of the WHL’s premier facilities up there with Rogers Place in Edmonton. Cockell said fans can expect it to be state-of-the-art.
As for the team colours, Cockell said the ownership is comfortable with the current state of the team’s aesthetic after buying the team two years ago. As for re-branding in Winnipeg, the ownership group thinks the Western Hockey League is a very unique product, and they’re not in the competition for hockey dollars, instead in it for entertainment dollars. General manager Cockell adding further that there would be a local flavour to the club in Winnipeg. As to what that may be, well only time will tell.
Cockell sounded relieved when saying, “we’re just really excited to publicly confirm the future of the franchise and the direction to finally put an end to the speculation.”