Today, it was announced that the Kootenay ICE will be relocating to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Sad news coming from British Columbia on Tuesday, as the WHL announced the relocation of the Kootenay ICE from its current home in Cranbrook, BC to Winnipeg, MB. The decision comes from dismal attendance, and the ensuing lack of financial stability.
How Did They Get Here?
President and Governor Ed Chynoweth moved the ICE from the franchise’s original home in Edmonton to the Kootenay in 1998, and the team had almost immediate success. They made it to their first Memorial Cup in 2000 after winning their first of three WHL Championships. The ICE would eventually win the Memorial Cup in 2002, when Duncan Milroy and Colin Sinclair’s playoff heroics led Kootenay to the franchise’s only championship.
The ICE made it back to the Memorial Cup in 2011, before falling in the semis to eventual champion Saint John Sea Dogs. Following a disappointing first-round exit in 2012, interest in the team began to dwindle. From 2000 to 2012, the ICE averaged well above 2,500 fans every night inside the Western Financial Place. After 2012, attendance dropped to record lows that the team had not seen since the team first moved West. The team has been either last, or second-to-last, in the WHL in average attendance since the 2014-2015 season, including a poor average of 1,754 fans per game in 2016-2017.
According to multiple sources, there has been rumblings of a possible relocation since October, and there was plenty of speculation of an announcement throughout the day on Monday. WHL Commissioner Ron Robison confirmed ICE fans’ fears Tuesday.
“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.”
GM and President Matt Cockell admitted that it was the management’s failures for the move, and that the news will be tough to swallow for the fans in Cranbrook. Majority Owner and Governor Greg Fettes gave a very legitimate reason for the news to be broke in the middle of the season.
“The decision to announce prior to the end of the season felt like the right thing to do in order to allow the City of Cranbrook and the ICE to prepare for the future, and put an end to the speculation surrounding the franchise.”
Of course the poor fan support can be related to the team’s poor performance as well. Since winning the 2011 Ed Chynoweth Cup, the ICE have only made it out of the first round once, and have missed the playoffs the past three seasons. The team finished last in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, and is currently second-to-last in the WHL with a 10-32-7-1 record.
What to Expect in Winnipeg
Fettes headed the move under his group 50 Below Sports and Entertainment. The plan is to make the Southwest corner of Winnipeg an entertainment hub of the city, with the centre of the project being the building of a new arena. An estimated 4,000-seat WHL arena is proposed to be built in Oak Bluff. For the time being, the ICE will play in Wayne Fleming Arena on the campus of the University of Manitoba.
This will be the first time Winnipeg will home a WHL club since the Winnipeg Warriors moved to Moose Jaw back in 1984.
Statistics and results gathered from WHL.ca
Quotes found from the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun
Attendance records found on hockeydb.com