Back in the 1980s, Winnipeg had a WHL team that were called the Warriors. The logo to the left was the team's logo, and it would probably be deemed offensive at best if it were used today considering the caricature on the logo. The team spent just four seasons in Winnipeg after it was determined that the team couldn't compete for attendance with the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, but the truth was that the Warriors were pretty horrible on the ice as well. With the Jets having been resurrected from the Atlanta Thrashers after losing the previous edition of the Winnipeg Jets, though, it seems as though True North Sports and Entertainment is now looking at resurrecting a WHL team in Winnipeg again.
The problems that plagued the Warriors in their first incarnation was that they played at the same rink as the Jets, and the Jets were the show to be seen. The Warriors were a woeful 102-184-2 in the team's four seasons in the Manitoba capital, including the second-worst season recorded by a WHL team ever in the 1983-84 Warriors' record of 9-63-0. No, that's not a misprint.
There were some decent players that saw the ice in Winnipeg as a junior player as both Randy Gilhen and Mike Keane went on to play long careers in professional hockey. But after competing for fans with the Jets for four seasons, the team finally called it quits and moved west to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where the Moose Jaw Warriors still play today.
Today, it was announced that True North Sports and Entertainment is exploring the idea of either bringing a WHL team in or obtaining an expansion franchise in the WHL. Nick Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press reported today,
True North Sports & Entertainment will be conducting an online market research survey about a potential WHL team in the Winnipeg market starting today and running through Tuesday.Strangely, this set off a number of thoughts in my head as I was always a big supporter of the Manitoba Moose when they were in the AHL and IHL because of the affordability of the tickets. Junior hockey would also be an affordable ticket for the bast majority of Winnipeg citizens, so this is a great opportunity for True North to bring in a second team that may be more affordable for families and those who cannot get or afford tickets to the Jets.
The purpose of the survey will be to gauge the potential interest in a Western Hockey League (WHL) franchise in Winnipeg, should an opportunity develop for this market.
The survey will be sent to a sample group of current and former MTS Centre and Winnipeg Jets customers. Only those that are sent an email will be asked to participate in the survey at this time. True North will continue to advise the media in the event there are further developments with respect to True North Sports & Entertainment and the Western Hockey League.
Cue the Twilight Zone music, though, as myself and reader Jim W. were discussing the "major announcement" announcement that Dwayne Green, Executive Director of the Jets True North Foundation, broke on The Hockey Show last week. This wasn't the announcement (I'll talk more below about that), but Jim tweeted me this comment:
In doing a little digging, it seems as though the WHL is committed to bringing a team to the eastern fringes of the league to help the Brandon Wheat Kings. WHL commissioner Ron Robison was quoted during the playoffs last season as saying, "If there was to be relocation certainly from an Eastern Conference standpoint, our first priority would be Winnipeg. We really feel that we can be successful in an NHL market now, in a similar way we’ve done so in Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton successfully." So clearly there is interest on both sides as long as the market indicates a want or need for WHL hockey.
It seems as though the one team that would be best served with a move would be the Kootenay Ice as Jim stated above. They are the 19th-best franchise in terms of attendance in the 22-team league this season, and they rarely draw more than 3000 fans to the 4200-seat arena. Ice owner Jeff Chynoweth would have to be willing to sell, of course, but it's not like True North doesn't have the financial backing to make this happen. TNSE's Mark Chipman is a wise man, though, so don't expect him to overpay for a team just because it's available.
Of course, the two teams drawing less than the Ice - the Swift Current Broncos and the Prince George Cougars - may also decide to throw in the towel in their current community and give Winnipeg a shot.
If there is one team who might particularly be of note to True North, it's the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were originally founded in Winnipeg in 1967 as the Jets, and morphed into the Winnipeg Clubs in 1973 and then the Winnipeg Monarchs in 1976. However, the Monarchs went to Calgary for the 1977 season as the Wranglers before they skipped town for Lethbridge in 1988 as the Hurricanes. There's your first tie to Winnipeg.
Secondly, the Hurricanes have been bleeding red ink for a while. The team announced that it had lost $1.25 million over the last three years, and were not looking at a profit this season either. With the losses mounting, you'd have to expect that the current ownership group will want to stop the bleeding at some point. With the team having been founded in Winnipeg, there's a nostalgia that True North may want to capitalize on with this WHL team.
Thirdly, the Hurricanes were recently told by the Washington Capitals that the jerseys and logo the Hurricanes currently use looked far too much like the uniforms and logo used by the Capitals, and Washington would like that to change before the start of next season. The jersey they will be switching to for next season is this season's alternate jersey, and you may notice the airplane on the logo. That's a Hawker Hurricane, used by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War, so there's a strong tie-in to Canada's Air Force and airplane imagery. That NHL team that True North owns is also fairly heavily involved in honoring the Royal Canadian Air Force and airplane imagery. Again, I'm getting Twilight Music vibes.
Of course, all this conjecture and speculation could amount to nothing if the Winnipeg market determines that a WHL team isn't a prudent investment for True North to make based on the responses to their survey. I will say that I am a little excited that something like this could happen. While it may not reach "Jets return to Winnipeg" proportions, it should make a lot of hockey fans in Winnipeg happy if it were to happen.
That Announcement...I really want to say thank you to Dwayne Green for appearing on The Hockey Show last week. He gave some excellent insight into what the True North Foundation does for kids and the community of Winnipeg, and he also stated there would be a major announcement coming on April 4. So what was the announcement, you ask?
The Jets and the True North Foundation will be raffling off the first Winnipeg Jets license plate in a lottery! They will limit the number of tickets to 15,004 - the same as a sold-out Jets game - and will be available for $20 apiece. All proceeds will go directly to the True North Foundation, so that's another big chunk of money going to help kids and the community in Winnipeg! Tickets can be purchased at remaining Winnipeg Jets home games this season and at all Jets Gear locations or by emailing Kait Flett from the Foundation.
They also announced that the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation received a cheque from the sale of those license plates from Manitoba Government and Manitoba Public Insurance worth $809,580! 27,000 license plates were sold at Manitoba Autopac offices for $70 with $30 going directly to the True North Foundation. Factoring in the raffle for the first Jets license plate above, and the True North Foundation is looking at approximately $1.2 million made off the sale of the license plates in Manitoba! Now that's an impressive haul!
Congratulations go out to Dwayne Green and the True North Foundation for raising an incredible amount of money that will go to helping kids and the communities within Winnipeg. If we see a WHL team join the True North roster, that could help raise more funds that go back to helping Winnipeggers. Keep your ear to the ground on this possible WHL relocation!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!