Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Winnipeg (-Owned) WHL Team

For years, I've held hope that someone in Winnipeg would bring a WHL franchise back to the city. The city has seen WHL history from yesteryear, but there hasn't been a team in the Manitoba capital in my lifetime. There have been teams for sale in recent years that would filled that void, but with the arrival of the AHL Manitoba Moose there was really no reason to hold out hope that True North Sports and Entertainment would entertain the idea. Tonight, however, there are two Winnipeg businessmen who have ventured into the WHL ranks as owners, but it seems they will keep the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook, BC.

Kootenay Ice President and GM Dean Chynoweth announced on Tuesday that the Chynoweth family, who had owned the franchise since 1995, had agreed to sell the team to businessmen Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell. Fettes and Cockell are both Winnipeggers with customer service and hockey backgrounds as Fettes is the founder of 24-7 Intouch, a global customer service outsourcing company, while Cockell is the former Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for True North Sports and Entertainment among the many hockey titles he's held over his career.

Cockell will be relocating his family to Cranbrook as he takes over as President and General Manager from Chynoweth, and will oversee all business and hockey operations of the Kootenay Ice. The former fifth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 1997 played for four WHL teams in three seasons, was a coach with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and was part of the gold medal-winning Canadian Women's Hockey Team at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. His connection to Fettes came through 24-7 Intouch where Cockell served as Chief Customer Officer. He'll have a big job ahead of him in trying to get people come back to the rink as the team averaged under 1700 people per game and own one of the worst records in junior hockey over the last two seasons.

"Our family is looking forward to becoming an active community member, and we are excited to engage directly with some of the greatest fans in the entire Western Hockey League," Cockell said in a statement.

The sale is conditional upon the WHL Board of Governors approving the deal at a special meeting on April 27 to review the new ownership application. The team has been up for sale since 2012, one season after they had claimed the WHL's Ed Chynoweth Cup as the WHL champions. They also won the championship in 2000 and 2002, and claimed the Memorial Cup Championship in 2002 as well. There were discussions to move the team to Nanaimo, BC upon the completion of a new arena, but residents in Nanaimo balked at a new $80 million events centre.

It seems the two Winnipeg men will keep the team in Cranbrook and work to re-establish the team's winning ways. If you're a junior hockey fan in Manitoba, don't get too excited when it comes to seeing a second junior team in the province. It appears that Fettes and Cockell will do what they can in BC to make Kootenay successful once more, and I commend them for committing to that community before exploring other options for the team. If anything, that commitment should resonate well with Ice fans as a start.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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