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This article was published 8/2/2019 (959 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The University of Manitoba Bisons will be making space for yet another hockey program come fall.
On Jan. 30, the Western Hockey League announced the Kootenay Ice junior hockey team is moving to Winnipeg from Cranbrook, B.C.
The team, which has been renamed the Winnipeg Ice, will play the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons in the university’s Wayne Fleming Arena while a new 4,500-seat arena is constructed as part of a sports, recreation and commercial complex being built on a site in the Rural Municipality of Macdonald — possibly in or next to the South Landing Business Park.
Gene Muller, athletic director with Bison Sports, said he is optimistic about the partnership with the Winnipeg Ice and is excited to have new players and fans on campus.
"Just having a professional organization use your space, I think there’s some learnings for us in terms of improving all of our processes," Muller said.
"Most of the Canada West university teams recruit out of the WHL, many of the players that play with the Bisons currently have come out of the WHL, and so we hope that having someone in our backyard, talented players who maybe are not going to the NHL but want to play hockey and have a university career, will consider us as an option.
"I see that as a win for us," he said.
In order to accommodate the WHL for two seasons, infrastructure improvements will be made to the arena.
Muller said the Ice will contribute to a new scoreboard, upgrades to the visitors’ dressing room,and refurbishments to the press box.
"Our scoreboard has been in a state of disrepair and really old, and we need a new scoreboard, and hopefully one with some video capability for us," Muller said.
"That will improve the fan experience for Ice fans but also for our fans as a legacy piece going forward."
Muller said the Bisons had hoped to make the needed capital improvements sooner than later, but the Ice’s arrival on campus will lessen the financial burden and accelerate the timeline.
"They were on the to-do list but we don’t have the means," he said. "They were priorities but probably for later down the line."
Matt Cockell, Ice president and general manager, said the Wayne Fleming facility will offer a different junior hockey experience for fans.
"Fans can expect to be close to the action and experience WHL hockey in an intimate, high-energy environment while the future home of the Ice is being constructed," Cockell said in a statement. "Seating capacity is limited, so fans are encouraged to save their place in line in order to secure season seats."
Wayne Fleming Arena can accommodate 1,400 people.
Muller said his department will work carefully to mitigate any scheduling conflicts and maintain student and community access to the arena.
The Ice will use the arena on a rental basis and will not have permanent offices or dressing rooms on campus, he said.
"They’re only going to be using the facility for games — so no training or weight room facilities," Muller said. "And even during the games, just like any renter, for the time they’re using the ice, they have access to our dressing rooms."
Muller said Bisons sports teams will be given first priority to access the space and, while intramural programming slots may have to be shuffled, total ice time won’t be reduced.
"We’re obviously going to have to balance that out," Muller said.
"We’ll probably look at giving them (Winnipeg Ice) one day a week, so that it doesn’t impact intramurals and regular programming," he said. "And we’ll probably look at evenings on the weekends but those evenings will be scheduled not to clash with any of the varsity games."
The relocation of the Ice to Winnipeg is the first time since 1984 that a WHL team has been based in the city. Ice owner Greg Fettes said its new sports and entertainment complex will be part of a partnership with local investors, including The Rink owners Tina Jones, Brad Rice and Mike Keane. The group will operate under the name 50 Below Sports + Entertainment.
This project is separate from The Rink’s new complex on South Landing Drive due to open this spring. That facility will house The Rink player development and GDI goaltender development programs, Testify Performance and the Rink Hockey Academy (RHA) of the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL).
The 95,000-square foot building will include a 700-seat NHL-sized rink, a smaller training rink and a goalie-specific ice sheet as well as dry land training facilities.
Fettes said the new hockey, sports and entertainment complex will be constructed near Loudoun Road but didn’t specify which side of the road he’s looking at.
— with files from Andrea Geary
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.