Earlier this week, Paul Friesen, a sports columnist with the Winnipeg Sun, wrote about how and why the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice might be on its last legs in the Manitoba capital.
Well . . . he had another column on Friday, this one digging a little more into whether the Ice ownership will be building an arena in the Rural Municipality of Macdonald.
The key points, at least from where I sit, are these:
1. On the subject of that possible construction project, Reeve Randy Erb said: “I haven’t heard a darn thing about it.”
2. “On Friday,” Friesen wrote, “team brass again wouldn’t take questions, choosing instead to issue a statement saying they’ve made some progress with the RM regarding development of their parcel of land, but making no mention of a new arena.”
3. “A request for follow-up questions was denied,” Friesen wrote.
4. Friesen added “the league also won’t take questions . . .”
There certainly seem to be a lot of folks not wanting to answer questions, isn’t there? Why is that?
Gee, I wonder what the folks of Cranbrook are thinking about now? And, yes, the hockey fans in Chilliwack, too.
Friesen’s complete column is right here and, again, it’s well worth a read.
The Victoria Royals began life as the Chilliwack Bruins, as I’m sure you will remember, but after a sale left for Vancouver Island following the 2010-11 season.
At the time, the WHL desperately wanted into Victoria and felt it had to act before the AHL got there, perhaps by having the Manitoba Moose relocate from Winnipeg.
You also may recall that Victoria had been home to the ECHL’s Salmon Kings until the franchise folded after that 2010-11 season.
Thus, the WHL hustled to get into Victoria.
And once it was there its pooh-bahs realized that it would be terrific if there was a second team on Vancouver Island. After all, it was turning out to be rather costly to ride a ferry there and back from the mainland to, in most instances, play one game. The logical place for another team would be Nanaimo, which had a population of about 90,500 in 2016. (That population grew to around 103,500 by 2022.)
The problem with Nanaimo, at least in the eyes of the WHL, was that it didn’t like the arena. The Frank Crane Arena, with its 2,400 seats, opened on Jan. 3, 1976. It is the home of the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers. For one season (1982-83), it had been home to a WHL franchise — the Nanaimo Islanders. (In 1981-82, the Islanders had been the Billings Bighorns; in 1983-84, they would be the New Westminster Bruins. Today, they are the Tri-City Americans.)
The Clippers’ lease was to end after the 2016-17 season, and a WHL franchise in Nanaimo would have led to that franchise’s demise.
All of this led to reports like this one, from CTV News on March 7, 2017:
“The Western Hockey League has raised the stakes in Nanaimo’s event centre debate.
“The league vowed Monday to bring a WHL club to the Harbour City if residents vote ‘yes’ this weekend on the proposed sports and entertainment complex, which could cost taxpayers close to $80-million.
“It’s the first time the WHL has outright committed to bringing a franchise to Nanaimo.”
Furthermore, the WHL said in a statement that a memorandum of understanding was in place between it and the City of Nanaimo, that a ‘yes’ vote would result in a team playing out of Nanaimo in time for the 2017-18 season and that there would be a 20-year lease in place if the new facility met WHL standards.
Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, said in a statement: “The WHL remains fully committed to delivering a WHL franchise to Nanaimo, either through relocation or expansion, and will move forward to obtain the necessary final approvals should the residents of the City of Nanaimo vote in favour of a new events centre.”
On March 11, the day of the referendum, CBC reported that Jeff Chynoweth, then the general manager of the Cranbrook-based Kootenay Ice, had confirmed that a move by his team to Nanaimo “is under discussion.”
And so it was that Nanaimo voters went to the polls to vote on whether to borrow $80 million to build an events centre that would seat 5,700 for hockey and 7,100 for concerts.
The outcome was never in doubt. Voter turnout was 35.3 per cent, higher than the 2014 general election (34.1). All told, 23,885 ballots were cast and 80.3 per cent of those voted against borrowing the money.
About a month after the referendum, Chynoweth and his family sold the Ice to Greg Fettes, a Winnipeg businessman, and Matt Cockell, a former WHL goaltender who had been working with True North Sports + Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Winnpeg Jets.
The Ice played two more seasons in Cranbrook but it became evident early that the franchise’s days there were numbered.
Indeed, on Jan. 29, 2019, the WHL confirmed hockey’s worst-kept secret — the Ice would relocate to Winnipeg after the 2018-19 season.
It didn’t seem to matter to the WHL that there wasn’t a suitable arena available in which the Ice could play its home games. It didn’t matter, perhaps, because Fettes was promising to build a 4,700-seat arena for his team.
So . . . here we are with the 2022-23 WHL regular season heading into the home stretch. The Ice is playing its third season in Winnipeg; it would be four but the abbreviated 2020-21 season ended up being played in a Regina bubble because of the pandemic.
And where does the Ice play its home games?
In Wayne Fleming Arena, on the campus of the University of Manitoba, a facility that also is home to Canada West’s U of Manitoba Bisons. It opened in 1981, about five years after Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo. The Ice’s home seats about 1,600, and there have been improvements made over the past couple of years, with, among other things, a new ice plant having been installed in 2021.
As for Fettes’s promise to build a new arena. Well, there has yet to be even one shovel hit the ground. And now there are rumblings about the WHL possibly taking over the franchise . . . and perhaps having fined the Ice $500,000 for reneging on the arena promise, something the WHL and Ice both have denied . . . and a Paul Friesen column in the Winnipeg Sun this week detailed how it is that the Ice may be on its last legs in Winnipeg.
So . . . out of all this . . . can anyone explain why the WHL didn’t just move a team to Nanaimo and have it play in a 2,400-seat arena while waiting for someone to build a new facility.
No, the Frank Crane Arena doesn’t meet WHL standards, but neither does the Wayne Fleming Arena.
That didn’t seem to matter when putting a team into Winnipeg, so why was it a big deal when it came to Nanaimo?
You are free to play “What if . . .?”
Tim McCarver, who made his name as an MLB catcher before becoming a prominent TV analyst, died on Thursday at the age of 81. . . . As Joe Posnanski points out, McCarver had one moment that stood out among all the rest. It was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Diamondbacks versus Yankees. Luis Gonzales against Mariano Rivera. Bottom of the ninth. 2-2. One out. Bases loaded.
“Here’s what (McCarver) said while Gonzalez dug into the box and Rivera took the ball and readied for the next pitch. . . .
“ ‘The one problem is Rivera throws inside to lefthanders, so lefthanders get a lot of broken bat hits into . . . the shallow part of the outfield. That’s the danger of bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound.’
“On the next pitch, Gonzalez hit a broken bat single over the drawn-in infield. The ball landed in the shallow outfield.
“Incredible. That might have been the greatest broadcasting prophecy in any sport.
“And, funny, you never really hear people talk about it. Tony Romo predicts a screen play correctly and people are ready to give him the Nobel Prize. McCarver perfectly called one of the most iconic hits in baseball history before it happened and . . . nothing.”
Headline at The Beaverton (@TheBeaverton) — Stabbed man who got hit by 3 cars then thrown off bridge probably died from the vaccine
FRIDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
THE BEDARD WATCH: F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, playing in his 40th game of this season, ran his totals to 50 goals and 50 assists in a 6-5 loss to the host Prince Albert Raiders. . . . Bedard, who won’t turn 18 until July 17, finished with two goals and two assists, giving him his 10th game with at least four points. . . . Bedard is the first Regina player with back-to-back 50-goal seasons since F Mike Sillinger, who did it three seasons in a row (1988-91). . . . Bedard is the second-fastest skater in Pats history to reach 50 goals behind only F Jock Callander who did it in 39 games in 1981-82. In 1982-83, F Dale Derkatch got his 50th goal in his 41st game. . . . “The difference,” Callander told Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post this week, “is that I was 20 and he’s 17. . . . Bedard has scored 31 times in his past 17 games. . . . He leads the WHL in goals and points. . . . Oh yes, his presence also sold out another WHL arena, this time the Art Hauser Centre.
In Prince Albert, the Raiders scored the game’s last two goals to beat the Regina Pats, 6-5. . . . The home boys overcame deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 5-4 in earning the victory. . . . F Grady Martin’s first WHL goal, in his 37th game, tied it 5-5 at 5:19 of the third period. Martin, 16, is from Oyen, Alta., and was a second-round pick in the WHL’s 2021 draft. . . . F Aiden Quiring (9) broke the tie at 9:19. . . . F Alexander Suzdalev got his 30th goal for Regina. He is the third Regina freshman in recent years with 30 goals, behind F Nick Henry (2016-17) and F Petr Kalus (2005-06). . . . Regina F Tanner Howe, who is from Prince Albert, scored his 25th goal. . . . The announced attendance was 3,299, a sellout and the largest crowd in the Art Hauser Centre this season, well ahead of the 2,798 who watched the Saskatoon Blades post a 5-2 victory on opening night. . . . Of course, the fans were there to watch Regina F Connor Bedard and he didn’t disappoint — he scored twice, becoming the first WHLer to 50 goals this season, and added two assists. . . . Prince Albert (21-28-3) is eight points out of a playoff spot. . . . Regina (25-23-3) is tied with Swift Current and Calgary for sixth in the Eastern Conference. . . .
The Spokane Chiefs scored four times in a shootout as they beat the host Everett Silvertips, 4-3. . . . The teams combined for seven goals in the five-round shootout. . . . Everett held a 3-0 lead halfway through the third period, only to have Spokane strike three times in 4:46 in the second half. . . . F Berkly Catton (16) keyed the comeback with a goal and two assists. The first overall selection in the 2021 WHL draft has 40 points in 47 games. . . . F Cade Hayes (16) had two goals for Spokane, forcing OT at 15:22. . . . Spokane (11-35-6) has points in three straight (2-0-1). . . . Everett (27-23-3) is tied for fourth with Tri-City. . . .
F Blake Swetlikoff scored two second-period goals to help the host Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-1 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . Swetlikoff, who has 11 goals, broke a 1-1 tie at 1:29 and added insurance at 10:40. . . . Hurricanes G Bryan Thomson, coming off back-to-back shutouts, stopped 30 shots. . . . Lethbridge (30-18-6) has points in four straight (3-0-1) and is fifth in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Moose Jaw. . . . Brandon (21-24-7) is 10th, four points from a playoff spot. . . .
The Winnipeg Ice struck five times in the first period en route to a 7-1 victory over the Warriors in Moose Jaw. . . . The Ice got goals from five different players in that period, the scores coming in a span of 11:38. . . . Winnipeg got points from 15 players but no one had more than two. . . . Ice D Ben Zloty, a sixth-round pick in the WHL’s 2017 draft, scored his 10th goal. He now has 63 points in 49 games. He finished last season with 64 points, eight of them goals, in 62 games. . . . The Warriors lost F Robert Baco to a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct at 8:17 of the third period. . . . Winnipeg (42-7-1) now leads the Eastern Conference by nine points over Red Deer and Saskatoon. Red Deer leads the Central Division so would be the No. 2 seed. . . . Moose Jaw (33-18-3) is fourth in the conference, three points ahead of Lethbridge. . . .
The Kamloops Blazers coughed up 3-0 and 4-1 leads before coming back to beat the Rebels, 7-4, in Red Deer. . . . Kamloops has won seven in a row. . . . With the Scotties Tournament of Hearts — aka the Canadian women’s curling championship — in their home arena, the Blazers won’t play in Kamloops again until March 3. The Scotties began Friday and runs through Feb. 26. . . . The Blazers broke a 4-4 tie with a pair of PP goals early in the third period. . . . D Kyle Masters, who was acquired along with a first-round WHL draft pick from Red Deer in a deal that had D Mats Lindgren go the other way, got his ninth goal at 2:38 and F Daylan Kuefler (27) added insurance at 4:26. . . . D Olen Zellweger had a goal (18) and three assists for the winners, with F Connor Levis adding a goal (14) and two helpers. . . . Kamloops was 4-for-5 on the PP; Red Deer was 1-for-2. . . . Blazers F Logan Stankoven had three assists as he ran his point streak to 35 games, tying F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats for the longest point streak this season. Stankoven, with 79 points in 35 games, has at least a point in every game he has played this season. . . . The Blazers held a 42-27 edge in shots, including 21-4 in the first period after which they led 3-0. . . . Kamloops (34-10-6) leads the B.C. Division by 22 points over Prince George. . . . Red Deer (36-13-4) leads the Central Division by 10 points over Lethbridge. . . .
F Dylan Guenther opened and closed the scoring as the Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Tri-City Americans, 4-3 in OT, in Kennewick, Wash. . . . Guenther won it with his third goal of the season at 4:10 of OT. . . . He also had an assist, giving him a three-point outing. He’s got seven points in four games since being assigned by the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. . . . Seattle got a goal (8) and an assist from F Brad Lambert, who has 16 points in 10 games since the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets sent him to the Thunderbirds. He has a goal in five straight games. . . . Tri-City F Jordan Gavin, who won’t turn 17 until Nov. 13, had a goal and two assists. He’s got 42 points, 15 of them goals, in 46 games. . . . D Lukas Dragicevic had two PP assists for the Americans. . . . Seattle (40-9-2) has won five in a row. It leads the Western Conference by six points over Portland. . . . Tri-City (25-20-7) has lost six in a row (0-4-2). It is tied with Everett for fourth in the conference. . . .
The Saskatoon Blades opened a 5-0 first-period lead en route to a 6-4 victory over the Royals in Victoria. . . . The Blades are 3-1-0 on their tour through the B.C. Division. They’ll head for home after facing the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C., tonight. . . . F Trevor Wong (20) scored two of those early goals — one on the PP and one while shorthanded — as the Blades struck five times in a span of 12:48. . . . F Egor Sidorov (33) had two goals and two assists for the Blades, with F Conner Roulette adding a goal (20) and two helpers. . . . F Jake Poole, the Royals’ leading scorer, had two goals (29) after not having played since Feb. 3. . . . Saskatoon (36-13-4) is second in the East Division, nine points behind Winnipeg. . . . Victoria (15-33-6) is ninth in the Western Conference. The Royals are three points out of a playoff spot and their next three games are against the conference-leading Seattle Thunderbirds. In their only meeting to date, Seattle put up a 3-0 shutout.
F Josh Pillar of the Saskatoon Blades had his NHL rights dealt from the Minnesota Wild to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night. Pillar, who turned 21 on Feb. 14, is from Warman, Sask. He was a fourth-round pick by the Wild in the NHL’s 2021 draft. This season, he has four goals and eight assists in 12 games, but only returned to game action last night after being out since Nov. 26 with an undisclosed injury. . . .
The Moose Jaw Warriors honoured two former defencemen — Paul Dyck and Kevin Masters — this week by inducting them into the organizations Hall of Fame. . . . Dyck played from 1989-91; Masters from 1988-92. . . . They were saluted at a dinner on Thursday night and then were honoured Friday night as the Warriors played host to the Winnipeg Ice. . . . Brent Parker, who as the general manager of the Regina Pats may have tossed more than a little gasoline onto what was a fierce rivalry back in the day, was in attendance. In fact, he won the 50-50 draw and immediately gave half of it to the Warriors’ education fund. . . . I have it on good authority that there more than a few laughs were heard when Parker was announced as the winner. . . .
The Portland Winterhawks will add F Randy Heath, F Cam Neely, F Grant Sasser and F Ken Yaremchuk to their Hall of Fame on March 18. All four played on the 1983-champion Winterhawks. . . . Portland also will retire Neely’s No. 21. That will be the first number to have been retired by the Winterhawks. . . . The Seattle Thunderbirds are scheduled to provide the opposition on March 18.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Living Kidney Donor Program
St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6
Toll free: 1-877-922-9822
Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182
Or, for more information, visit right here.