Let the thaw begin for the ICE
By Ian Cobb
News of the possible sale of the Kootenay ICE arrived at about the same time as our elongated winter of discontent came to an end.
As we iced our shovelling damaged shoulders and heralded the return of robins, tanned and hale from winter hollies, we East Kootenay/Cranbrook hockey fans were given the news that the Chynoweth family, owners of the ICE, have entered into an agreement to sell the Western Hockey League (WHL) team to Winnipeg entrepreneur Greg Fettes and hockey executive Matt Cockell.
It is excellent news for the city and region – not just for hockey fans but for all residents. The ICE, as a franchise, provide jobs and boost the Key City’s economy and having an anchor tenant in Western Financial Place is paramount. We have a vibrant, growing regional community and such social amenities are vital components to satisfying lifestyles.
The transfer of ownership of the franchise is conditional upon the approval of the WHL Board of Governors. The WHL has scheduled a special in-person meeting on April 27 to review the new ownership application.
We are certain the WHL board will approve the sale and the ICE can begin anew. That said, allow us to provide an assurance to the board that great things are ahead for the ICE with a new ownership and lease on life in Cranbrook.
For starters, the timing could not be better for such a transition.
After taking over for his legendary father Ed, Jeff Chynoweth built winning team after winning team from 1998-2015. That is an incredible feat; a 17-year run in the playoffs for any minor hockey team is mind-blowingly unlikely.
In that time the ICE won the Memorial Cup in 2002 and appeared in the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tourney two other times as WHL champions – in 2000 and 2011.
However, there have been a couple of down seasons; in 2015/16 and this past season as the ICE struggled on the ice and at the gate. A poor team seemed to produce poor crowds, but that is not necessarily the case as the seasons before, with a talented whiz like Sam Reinhart leading the team, people were staying away from Western Financial Place.
It didn’t help that scuttlebutt was flying of the team being relocated to Nanaimo or elsewhere, either.
All that said, it is our observation and opinion that a big reason the ICE struggled at the gate was limited marketing efforts.
Simply put, if people don’t know a game is scheduled they won’t buy tickets. The current and likely outgoing ownership seemed to think that if you build it, they will come. But in less than friendly economic times, that kind of thinking is folly. Creative marketing and major effort is required to engage a population to any cause.
The ICE draw lots of people from Kimberley, the Columbia Valley, Creston, Elk Valley and beyond but the team has done little to nothing to reach out to those markets.
To give you an idea about how the franchise has approached grooming media support (free press is always a boon to any sports or entertainment entity), press passes handed out to visiting media still state: Edmonton Ice.
But that was then and this is now. New ownership and a renewed push to re-capture this region’s hockey fans’ attention will in itself result in more bums in the seats.
The low down on Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who will be moving to Cranbrook with his family, is they are bright and savvy entrepreneurs and hockey minds. They will be embraced by the city’s and region’s residents and business community if they commit to being a part of the community.
Better marketing, more involvement in the community (something the region’s Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams have done better than the ICE) and a fresh start will produce greater support for the franchise, dear WHL board.
The Kootenays are one of Canada’s more legendary hockey hotbeds. A list of talent that has come from the Kootenays reads like a hall of fame plaque, not to mention teams that linger in this nation’s hockey lore like gods in the clouds above (Trail Smoke Eaters, Kimberley Dynamiters etc.). It is simply right that the WHL has a presence here.
A new day is dawning for hockey fans in this region and we wish to thank Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell for their interest in our corner of paradise and welcome them with open arms and hearts.
And we thank the Chynoweth family for bringing the franchise here and, ultimately, help keep it here.
Jeff Chynoweth’s team crafting genius will also resonate moving forward, as the ICE’s young core appears as promising as any before it; and there have been some beauty teams perform in the Key City the past two decades.
Now all that remains is for hockey fans in this region to thaw with the spring and give the ICE another go.
We’re convinced, dear WHL board, that that will be the case. We hope you agree with us on April 27.