It’s official, the Kootenay ICE will be moving to Winnipeg at the end of the WHL season.
In Cranbrook Tuesday, Ron Robison, WHL Commissioner made the announcement at a special media availability alongside Kootenay ICE owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell.
“This is a difficult day for the hockey fans in the Kootenay region but we’re confirming today that the Western Hockey League and the Western Hockey League Board of Governors have approved relocation of the Kootenay ICE franchise to Winnipeg. This relocation will take effect next season for the start of the 2019/2020 season.”
Fettes, Kootenay ICE Governor said that they were “all-in” on the community of Cranbrook when they first took over the team from the Chynoweth family.
“When we bought this franchise our desire to be part of the WHL went way before Matt and I actually had the opportunity to have a franchise. When we had this opportunity, the league made very clear to us that if we were to buy the franchise, we had to go 110 percent to make it work here and we made that commitment.”
Cockell, Kootenay ICE President and General Manager, said the Drive to secure 2,500 season seats was a major checkpoint that gauged the long-term support for the team in Cranbrook.
“One of the things we tried to be very clear about was communicate the importance of that milestone,” said Cockell. “The community showed some momentum in terms of season seats in Year 1 and I think really in the summer of Year 2 when we continued to push on that Drive to 2,500 and we saw regression, it gave us pause, and as we’ve communicated on a number of occasions that was a real critical benchmark to look at sustainability for us as an ownership group,”
Reports of the team’s move to Winnipeg have been rumoured since the start of the 2018/19 WHL season and amplified with continuing reports in the Winnipeg Free Press throughout the season.
More: Reports Indicate Kootenay ICE Could Relocate to Winnipeg (October 22, 2018)
“This was a Western Hockey League decision ultimately, not the ownership decision to transfer this franchise,” Robison made clear. “It was a decision made over an 8 or 9-year period of assessment of this market and the ability for this franchise to be sustainable over a long-period of time.”
Robison said at the press conference that they would have announced the move sooner but there was various levels of approval needed before they could finalize the relocation.
“There’s a series of approvals that are required in order for us to go through this exercise, a due diligence with respect to this market and the Winnipeg market as well as approvals at the league levels which require both the WHL and Canadian Hockey League approvals and that Canadian Hockey League approval was finalized last week,” said Robison. “We felt it was important however to announce it immediately once all of those various approvals were completed in order to give this community every opportunity to get a franchise for next season and there’s a vacancy here now and we’re hopeful that other leagues will look at this market and be very attracted to it and I’m sure they will.”
Fettes emphasized their efforts to fully commit to Cranbrook, noting their various community donations, how Cockell had moved his entire family and sold his home to establish himself in the community.
“The one thing that I want to make sure everybody understands is when we came here, our commitment was to make it work here the best we could, we came in eyes wide open, we knew there was going to be some challenges, but we went all-in.”
“I don’t think this is a typical case of where you see a community losing their team because they didn’t step up and support it,” added Fettes. “I think this community was unbelievable, we had unbelievable fans, the business community here I think went above and beyond, it just simply couldn’t – and this is easy in hindsight – but it just simply couldn’t get to where we needed to get it.”
Later in Tuesday’s press conference, Cockell addressed the team’s recent trades and acquisitions, noting that there was a belief that the team was acquiring “local” Winnipeg players in preparation for their move to Manitoba.
“We’ve had a plan since we bought the team to really build around a couple of age groups and we’ve continued to do that. I think as it relates to our hockey team, as the season progressed if you look at some players that might be in their last year of junior, there starts to be some discussions around being fair to them and what they would like to do.”
The Kootenay ICE’s history in Cranbrook starts in 1998 when Ed Chynoweth moved the WHL’s Edmonton ICE to the East Kootenay community. Since they dropped the puck in Cranbrook, the Kootenay ICE were immediately successful, making the playoffs for 17 straight seasons up until 2015. Over that span, the ICE were three-time WHL Champions (2000, 2002, 2011) and won the 2002 Memorial Cup with the likes Jarrett Stoll, Nigel Dawes, Marek Svatos, and Colin Sinclair.
After Chynoweth’s passing in 2008, Jeff Chynoweth became President of the team in 2011, eventually selling the franchise to Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell on April 27, 2017.
Setting a goal of 2,500 season tickets, the ICE failed to secure that amount for the 2017/18 (approximately 1,900 seats) and 2018/19 WHL seasons (approximately 1,700 seats).
The Kootenay ICE Green Bay Committee attempted to make a rallying cry and collect more season seat support for the team in late October but the group soon disbanded after Fettes and Cockell’s “absence of active engagement” with their mid-season ticket drive.
More: Community Speaks Support for Kootenay ICE’s Future in Cranbrook (October 25, 2018)
More: Kootenay ICE Green Bay Committee Terminates Group (November 15, 2018)
Cockell said they are in the works of announcing a farewell ceremony and that the team has “something incredibly special” with a former alumni that’s been in close touch with the ownership group.
“For the player and for the fanbase and for the organization, in the last couple of weeks we tried to pull some things together quickly so that we could do it here in Cranbrook because we think the fans, one, would really appreciate it, and it’s unbelievably important to the player and we’ll look forward to announcing that in the coming weeks.”
Despite all of the additional details and more that will become clear in the coming weeks and months, the rumours and speculation are over, the news is official on Tuesday. The ICE will no longer be called “Kootenay” and Cranbrook will no longer be their home.
The Kootenay ICE will play their final game in Cranbrook on March 17, 2019, at Western Financial Place against the Red Deer Rebels.
WATCH: Tuesday’s full press conference with WHL Commissioner Ron Robison and Kootenay ICE Owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell: