The City of Cranbrook expects to make a significant announcement in the coming weeks around the future of hockey and its local arena, Western Financial Place.
The 4,268-seat facility has been without a home team since the WHL’s announcement that the Kootenay Ice would be relocating to Winnipeg for the 2019-2020 season.
The junior hockey team struggled for years with declining attendance and the league said in January that the franchise just wasn’t viable in its small market.
In late May, the city issued an official tender on B.C. Bid – inviting “Expressions of Interest from interested parties looking for the opportunity to relocate or establish a hockey team in Cranbrook, B.C. at Western Financial Place.”
“We’ve got a beautiful facility here that we have to maintain,” Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt told Global News.
“So we need a hockey team in there for sure.”
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The East Kootenay city with a population of just under 20,000 is looking for an amateur team that will be the right fit for the community, and a long-term tenant at Western Financial Place.
City staff are assessing all potential candidates through a questionnaire, which asked prospective hockey teams if they are authorized to play in Cranbrook by Hockey Canada, the AJHL, BCHL or KIJHL, what market research they have done, what will make their team viable in this community, and how the organization will recruit players to Cranbrook.
Pratt says one of several challenges in securing a hockey team to lease the local arena is that the leagues must approve any franchise move.
“There was some interest from some local people buying an Alberta hockey team and moving it here,” said Pratt.
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“But the B.C. Hockey League and Alberta Hockey League don’t allow either team to play, either league to play in the other provinces.”
The tender closed June 5 and in a June 7 statement, the city said the local ownership group working to bring a KIJHL hockey club to Cranbrook was “not able to provide all the necessary details around their proposal needed to set up a team in Western Financial Place.”
The city also noted that the sublease proposal through the Kootenay Ice would have expired in 2023, and it is looking for a lease longer than four years.
Still, the bid process generated substantial interest from many hockey organizations from a variety of leagues and playing levels, and the city’s mayor is optimistic.
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“Depending on what the results of the questionnaire were, we’ll have an announcement in the next short period,” he said.
Cranbrook residents are hopeful it will mean a return of junior hockey next season.
“There’s such a strong legacy of hockey here that I think being without it just isn’t right,” one Cranbrook resident told Global News.
Another man said that getting a hockey team again would also give the community a big economic boost.
“Our hotels will benefit, our restaurants will benefit, gift shops anything that you can think of around the town because we’ll be hockey central, hopefully we’ll be hockey central again,” he told Global News.