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WHL's Ice moving to Winnipeg

The Western Hockey League will look different in the 2019-20 season
Kootenay Ice

The worst-kept secret in the Western Hockey League was made official Tuesday.

The Kootenay Ice will be moving to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 season. 

The move was announced by Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell along with WHL commissioner Ron Robison.

“The WHL appreciates the support we have received from the City of Cranbrook, the corporate community, and, in particular, hockey fans in the East Kootenay region,” said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in a press release. “However, 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.”

The Ice's move east is also expected to see them move into the WHL's East Division along with the Moose Jaw Warriors. To make space for the Ice, the Swift Current Broncos would replace the Ice in the Central Division. The Broncos spent five years from 2001-06 in the Central Division with the WHL's Alberta-based teams. They have spent the last 13 seasons in the East Division.

The Ice have been dead last in WHL attendance for three of the last four seasons -- in 2017-18 they were second-last behind Prince Albert. This season the Ice are averaging 2,218 fans per game through 25 home games. 

Kootenay's move to Winnipeg had been widely speculated upon and only continued to grow as Ice ownership remained mute on the subject.

“The process of relocation is not an easy one and was made with thorough analysis and consideration for all parties,” said Greg Fettes, majority owner and governor of the Kootenay Ice. “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.”

Original owner Jeff Chynoweth sold the Ice in 2017 after year spending five years trying to offload the team. The team had been drawing less than 1,700 fans per game in Western Financial Place which seats 4,264. 

The team appeared to be headed to Nanaimo, B.C. two years ago, but the residents of the island city voted against building a new $80 million event centre.

Fettes is a Winnipeg entrepreneur and Cockell, who is the Ice's president and general manager, is the former vice-president of True North Sports and Entertainment, who own the Winnipeg Jets.

The Ice were founded in Edmonton in 1996 and played two seasons in the Alberta capital before relocating to Cranbrook in 1998. In Cranbrook, the Ice won WHL titles in 2000, 2002 and 2010, while also bringing home the Memorial Cup in 2002.

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