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After relocating from B.C., Winnipeg WHL franchise on the move again

After two decades in Cranbrook, the club relocated to Manitoba and is now heading to Washington State
Kootenay Ice players salute the crowd after a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels in its last-ever game in Cranbrook on Sunday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.

After relocating from Cranbrook to Manitoba, the Winnipeg Ice have been sold and are relocating to Wenatchee, WAS, to play out of the U.S. Division, according to a WHL announcement on Friday.

The club was acquired by David White of California-based Shoot the Puck Foundation, the same owner of the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild.

Formerly the Kootenay Ice that operated out of Cranbrook, the club was purchased by Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, a pair of Winnipeg investors, in 2017 before the relocation to Winnipeg was announced in 2019.

The club played out of the Wayne Fleming Arena, a facility associated with the University of Manitoba, as the ownership group attempted to build a new arena.

In a statement posted on the Ice’s social media channels, owner Greg Fettes said the team “simply ran out of time” amid efforts to build a new arena.

READ: City of Cranbrook files lawsuit against Winnipeg Ice, WHL for breaking lease agreement

“Despite our success in building the organization, we were unable to confirm our ability to build a new facility in Winnipeg that met the WHL standards on a timeline that was acceptable to the WHL,” Fettes wrote. “Unfortunately we were just never able to get the project on solid footing due to the changing landscape (during and post pandemic).

“…I’m sure many people in Winnipeg will be disappointed in this outcome. I’m sorry we let you down. Please know that we did our absolute best until the very end.”

The WHL confirmed the arena issues were a factor in the sale and relocation.

“Unfortunately, multiple attempts by the ICE ownership to construct an arena facility of acceptable WHL standards in Winnipeg, based on the agreed upon timeframes, were unsuccessful, leading to the relocation to Wenatchee,” reads a section of the WHL news release announcing the relocation to Washington State.

By relocating the franchise to Wenatchee, the WHL will have 11 teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Originally founded in Edmonton by the late Ed Chynoweth, the Ice relocated to Cranbrook in 1998 under the auspices of the Kootenay Ice. Over the course of two decades, the club won three WHL championships (2000, 2002, and 2011), including a Memorial Cup championship in Guelph in 2002.

After the club relocated to Winnipeg in 2019, the City of Cranbrook filed a lawsuit against the Kootenay Ice, the Winnipeg Ice and the Western Hockey League alleging breach of contract. That notice of claim remains active, according to court records.

The BCHL acknowledged the sale and relocation of the Winnipeg Ice to Wenatchee, noting that the BCHL franchise will no longer play in the city.

“The Wenatchee Wild has been a strong BCHL franchise and we extend our best wishes for their continued success in the future,” said Graham Fraser, Chairman of the BCHL Board of Governors. “As a league, we are assessing our next steps, including reviewing the best options for players currently on the Wenatchee Wild’s roster and addressing schedule implications for the 2023-24 season.”

The Wild moved into the BCHL in 2015, and have played in the league for eight years, winning a Fred Page Cup in 2018.

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Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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