Would a WHL franchise in Winnipeg work?
Why not? It would instantly become the fourth largest market in the league behind Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, boasts a rabid hockey fan base with apparent disposable income, and a superb venue in which to play. An instant provincial rivalry with the Brandon Wheat Kings would surely blossom and increased efficiency for western teams to make the long journey East into Brandon to play the Wheat Kings.
The WHL, much like the storied return of the NHL to Winnipeg, would be making an improbable comeback. The Warriors first joined the league as an expansion team in 1980 and had little to no success competing with the NHL Jets 1.0. After four years of attendance troubles and on ice futility, the WHL experiment ended as quickly as it began. With a disinterested market the team was transferred to Moose Jaw Saskatchewan in 1984 mainting the nickname Warriors.
Making its only appearance in the postseason in 1982-83 with a team lead by local boy Darren Boyko and future Jet Randy Gilhen they would register 42 wins and finish fourth in the Eastern Conference. Decimated by the departure of key players their next and final season would see the team win only nine games and surrender a whopping 580 goals against or just over eight per game.
Why would it be any different this time around?
There are no guarantees it would, but it does seem that there could be a much greater chance for it to be successful in the current marketplace. Firstly, the WHL in itself is a much more prosperous league boasting 22 vibrant franchises while offering an exceptional brand of hockey. It has a commissioner in Ron Robison who has a strong desire to add Winnipeg to its membership and the community’s insatiable thirst for hockey at present. With the Jets 2.0 the absolute toast of the town playing to a sold out building for the foreseeable future, and with 8000 more seats on a waiting list, it’s realistic to believe a WHL franchise could fill the void for many hockey starved locals.
With five US based franchises, six in British Columbia, four based in Alberta, six in Saskatchewan and only one, the Brandon Wheat Kings in Manitoba, it does beg the question; why are there not more teams based in the keystone province. There are three teams (Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) in the WHL that also play in markets that have NHL franchises. Winnipeg does not share the population size of Vancouver or even Calgary nor Edmonton but as clearly evidenced by the outpouring of support for the Jets 2.0 it’s easy to believe this hockey mad culture would embrace the opportunity to compete in the CHL.
The league would as a whole welcome effusively the idea of an additional Manitoba franchise; this would allow teams to make the most of travel expenses incurred while venturing into Manitoba to play the Wheat Kings. A flight to Winnipeg and a quick bus ride to Brandon then off to Saskatchewan would be decidedly more cost effective for teams than simply taking a long bus ride into Brandon and right back out again.
As for ownership and a place to play, let us be extremely presumptuous and imagine, if True North decided it would be a good investment, or was at the very least supportive of the idea and willing to provide an arena in which to play, the 15000 seat MTS center would make for a fantastic venue. Would it not be great if some retired NHL’ers like Ed Belfour or Dale Hawerchuk or maybe even Jonathon Toews potentially formed a group capable of making it happen? Or former local Warriors like Finnish league legend, Darren Boyko or local folk hero Mike Keane?
With a minimum of three thousand seats likely needed to make the team viable, a suitable venue other than the MTS center does not currently exist in the city. One solution could be to expand one of the 4 rinks within the MTS Iceplex which currently seats about 1400 to accommodate the team, but that seems extremely unrealistic.
Another less likely option could be to approach the City of Winnipeg and renovate an existing arena, say the aging 1500 seat St James Civic Center. The city desperately needs upgrades to many of its civic arenas and ice time for minor hockey in the city is constantly at a premium so any new surface would be in great demand and would have no troubles filling its schedule.
The most likely scenario might have a joint venture between the University of Manitoba and the new franchise which could combine efforts in replacing the 30-year-old Max Bell Center. Government inclusion could occur much the same way the University has recently teamed with the Blue Bomber football club in the rise of the new and highly anticipated Investors group field.
The reality is Chipman and his True North friends would be extremely reluctant on relinquishing over 40 nights of events in one of the busiest and most profitable arenas in North America. This would not even begin to address the many legal sanctions I am sure the TNSE group has in this marketplace. With no plans to build an appropriate facility or renovate an existing one the fact of the matter is a champion of the cause would need to come forward.
How about it Mr. Darren Boyko?