ICE may be on Nanaimo voter whim lifeline
By Ian Cobb
The continued existence of the Kootenay ICE in Cranbrook may come down to how voters in Nanaimo feel about funding an events centre, with the idea to have a Western Hockey League (WHL) team serve as an anchor tenant.
Nanaimo residents will be asked to vote in a referendum on the planning, funding and construction of a new events centre in February or March, the Victoria Times-Colonist reported Dec. 20.
If voters approve, WHL expansion or a team relocation could occur as early as next year, with the city’s Frank Crane Arena still available for use.
The Time-Colonist story notes the ICE “has officially been for sale for the last five years as the Chynoweth family looks to get out of ownership. Should Nanaimo manage to attract the team, which has struggled with attendance issues for the last few years, the club could play out of Frank Crane Arena until a new facility is completed in two years time. Currently the ICE are last in attendance in the WHL, averaging 1,672 fans per game at the 4,268-seat Western Financial Place.”
The ICE are the anchor tenant of Western Financial Place and losing the team would be a blow to the City of Cranbrook.
In June 2015, WHL commissioner Ron Robison told the Vancouver Metro the league is prepared to “exhaust every avenue” to keep the Kootenay ICE in Cranbrook, but reaffirmed there is a demand from other markets, including in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland, for a franchise if relocation becomes a reality.”
Since then, steam has built up within the league for the return of a franchise to Nanaimo.
“The WHL remains very interested in the City of Nanaimo as a potential market in the future for a WHL club. Should the City of Nanaimo approve the construction of a new facility which meets WHL standards, the WHL will seek the necessary approvals to deliver a WHL team either through relocation of an existing franchise or expansion,” Robison told the Times-Colonist Dec. 20.
Robison told Metro in 2015 the league was “very concerned” about attendance levels and the league was watching Cranbrook closely.
“I guess our view is that we’re hopeful that we can see improvement immediately. Because we’re a ticket-driven league, we need to make sure that the attendance is at acceptable levels,” he said.
But that is not the case; attendance remains poor at Western Financial Place.
For the second year in a row, coincidently occurring as the Chynoweth family secured 100% ownership of the franchise, the team has floundered as a WHL bottom-feeder, after 17 straight years of playoff contention – a rarity in the Canadian Hockey League – with three WHL championships (1999/2000; 2001/02; and 2010/11), with a Memorial Cup title in 2001/02.