May 5, 2015 12:31 am

WHL commissioner urges Hurricanes to sell

WHL commissioner Ron Robison talks the media following his address to Lethbridge Hurricanes shareholders.

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LETHBRIDGE – WHL commissioner Ron Robison has a clear message for shareholders of the community owned Lethbridge Hurricanes: it’s time to consider selling the team.

“It’s not to say that this community organization can’t get things turned around,” said Robison. “But we think, when you look at the franchise moving forward, that private interests would be in the best interest of the club.”

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Robison spoke to a gathering of 180 shareholders Monday night at the Enmax Centre. The top concern among shareholders is that a private owner could move the struggling club to a different city. But Robison was adamant the Western Hockey League would put language in place to keep the club in Lethbridge.

“We have no interest in moving this franchise,” said Robison. “We think this franchise can be one of the best, quite frankly, in the Western Hockey League.”

The Hurricanes have fallen upon tough times lately. The club hasn’t made the playoffs in six seasons, and financial losses have topped more than $1.25-million over the last five years in the face of falling ticket sales. Now shareholders will have the chance to decide whether to follow Robison’s advice. ‘Canes president Doug Paisley says the club will soon serve a 21 day notice about a public meeting where shareholders will vote on whether or not to proceed to a vote to sell the team. In the meantime, the impending votes won’t alter the team’s day-to-day operations.

“I don’t think it changes anything for us,” said Paisley. “We’re not competing with the Western Hockey League to keep this community or sell it or any of that. We were elected to run a community owned model and that’s what we’ll do.”

Should shareholders choose to sell, they would have a say in who the team is sold to, although final approval rests with the WHL’s board of governors. Robison stresses the league favours local owners, and points to the Kamloops Blazers as the ideal template of a how a team can successfully transition from community to private ownership.

Robison did warn that if the team stumbles to the point of not being able to continue operating the league would have no choice but to take control. However, he also says the WHL will continue to support the team if shareholders choose not to sell.

“It’s about finding the right people to take this franchise forward if that’s the decision the shareholders arrive at,” said Robison. “If not, the other side of that is the community ownership has a lot of work ahead of them to right the ship and get this franchise stabilized from a financial standpoint.”

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