The company that brought the Western Hockey League's Ice to Winnipeg, recently purchased the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Winnipeg Blues and operates four Rink Hockey Academy teams and hockey schools out of its new training centre is branching out into spring hockey.
On Tuesday, 50 Below Sports + Entertainment announced it had bought the Spring Manitoba Hockey Development and Manitoba Mustangs/Team Manitoba Brick and will operate them under the umbrella of the newly minted Manitoba Junior Ice Spring Hockey Program.
50 Below president David Blatt said his company is dedicated to improving hockey at the grassroots level. More than 30 minor hockey teams will have access to the facilities of the Rink Training Centre on South Landing in southwest Winnipeg.
"A big part of youth hockey development happens after the Manitoba hockey season ends — that runs October to March or April," said Blatt. "Spring hockey runs through the spring and summertime and it's usually run by a volunteer committee of passionate parents... 50 Below determined it would be good if we could consolidate the group and bring it under the 50 Below umbrella and actually leverage some of the talent we have.
"We have the professional coaches that aren't really doing much in the off-season and we have the Ice, so we can have a mentorship program, and we have our Rink programming. So what we've done is acquire two of the largest spring hockey organizations."
Blatt said his company's guidance will help to discourage the outlaw elements of spring hockey, which does not answer to the sport's governing body — Hockey Manitoba.
"We want to bring it into more mainstream, we want to have it more organized, we want to get rid of the politics," said Blatt. "I think losing the outlaw, cowboy experience and bringing it into more mainstream with professional coaches, better controls and systems and process will, I think, help the experience."
The growing of the business is expected to lead to a further expansion of the facilities.
"We've always had plans to expand," said Blatt. "This is Phase 1, so there are plans for more ice surfaces, plans for an events centre (to house the WHL's Ice). There's plans for other athlete development that go beyond hockey. This fits into the ultimate vision of 50 Below."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.