Kelly Friesen, a WHL writer covering the league for Yahoo Sports tweeted the following a few hours ago:
Winnipeg Jets ownership group is looking to buy a
#WHL team..had talks with the Kootenay Ice...more details in my column on Yahoo tomorrow.
Following Sportscaster Jim Toth's breaking of the story that the True North Sports Entertainment - the owners of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets - were in talks with a WHL team last weekend to purchase and relocate a team to Winnipeg to play out of the MTS Centre a la Edmonton and Calgary, the nervous energy in the Kootenays should've went into overdrive.
Jim Tweeted this early Sunday morning:
True North Sports & Ent. recently met with a
#WHL franchise about purchasing the team & bringing it to #Winnipeg . @680CJOB 1/2
Jim Toth Ice fans will remember as the entertaining host of Ice-Chips on the local Shaw TV Channel for five years from 2003-08 before leaving to take a job with Shaw in Winnipeg. Jim is now the host of his own sports show with CJOB radio in Winnipeg.
After taking 2 of 3 on the road, splitting in Brandon with a win Saturday in overtime and then beating the Swift Current Broncos 5-2 Monday to overtake the Lethbridge Hurricanes and move into a the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference - an almost Herculean feat in and of itself given that the club was actually three points behind the last-place Vancouver Giants in mid-December - all that will likely get talked about now is the impending doom for the club off the ice instead of the great play on it.
But for the 2350 average fans per game this season, maybe there are more that need to take these reports a little more seriously. Friesen's column more will likely only reveal that the Ice were the club that TNSE were talking to and talks broke off. But the fact there were talks held should scare the hell of you if you're a Kootenay fan.
And what of the 15-year lease signed by the club in 2009? If the club is sold, that would be for the courts to decide, I would imagine. Although the Niedermayer brothers Scott and Rob are minority partners with the club - a 24% stake - whether or not they still have first right of refusal on any sale is unknown.
The Ice have the third-lowest attendance in the league, ahead of only PG who hover just over 1800, and Swift Current who check in at about 2150 per game. The club has dropped almost 450 per game this season over last when it comes to average attendance.
The Winnipeg Free Press had a story on the owners of the Jets in discussions with a WHL team last week but talks had broken off. That story is here.
I'll be honest, when I seen Jim's tweet over the weekend and the Ice being in Brandon - it was a little too convenient. But I also brushed it off first because most around the league see the Prince George Cougars as the team first to be courted and bought or relocated and the fact the team has a great lease in Cranbrook with 11 years left on it, enabling it to make money with relatively lower attendance. However, the story Kelly will post tomorrow combined with the comments of Ron Robison to the FP at the end of the story above are concerning. (""If there was to be relocation certainly from an Eastern Conference standpoint, our first priority would be Winnipeg") PG isn't in the Eastern Conference, Kootenay is.
And fans around these parts should probably start paying attention, or at the very least, more of them. About 500 or so at least.
The Calgary Hitmen are here Saturday night. Hopefully the news is more about the stuff happening on the ice rather than off of it.
UPDATE: Kelly Friesen has posted his column for Yahoo Sports here. Kootenay leads his speculative list of franchises that could be options for TNSE to purchase and move to Winnipeg. However, though his sources have indicated that talks broke off, Ice fans should be extremely concerned. I have also fixed the date that the Ice signed the 15-year lease with the Rec Plex and the City. That was in January of 2009.