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Thrice as nice for the Ice

WHL's Winnipeg Ice plans $1.2 million renovation to temporary home at U of M

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2019 (506 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Any move is expensive but the Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Ice appear unwilling to do it on the cheap.

When the relocation of the franchise from Cranbrook, B.C., was first announced in January, the club said it intended to spend approximately $400,000 to renovate Wayne Fleming Arena on the University of Manitoba campus in time for the start of the 2019-20 season.

Matt Cockell, general manager of the Winnipeg Ice, right, with governor Greg Fettes, said possibilities to expand their renovations were apparent when the team was looking at blueprints.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Matt Cockell, general manager of the Winnipeg Ice, right, with governor Greg Fettes, said possibilities to expand their renovations were apparent when the team was looking at blueprints.

On Thursday, however, club president and GM Matt Cockell announced the team was shelling out $1.2 million for an upgrade plan that will include increasing the rink's seating capacity from 1,400 to 1,600 spectators, a new score clock, glass and safety netting, improved concession areas and upgrades to dressing rooms for visiting teams.

Savoie speculation

There were no guarantees when the Winnipeg Ice made centre Matthew Savoie the first player player chosen in the WHL bantam draft last week.

There were no guarantees when the Winnipeg Ice made centre Matthew Savoie the first player player chosen in the WHL bantam draft last week.

Savoie, widely regarded as the best 15-year-old hockey prospect in Western Canada, had already made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Denver beginning in the 2021-22 season. The Ice would like to change his mind, hoping to lure him to Winnipeg to play as a 16-year-old in the fall of 2020.

And the Ice would like to include his older brother, Carter, a 17-year-old forward whose WHL rights Winnipeg acquired earlier this spring, as part of a package deal. Carter has also committed to Denver.

“It’s going to be a process,” Ice general manager Matt Cockell said. “When we decided to select him, the thing that really stood out for me was it’s a great family. And Matt is a tremendous individual, and Carter is mature beyond his years. They’re good hockey players, and good hockey players have the option to make decisions. We just believe so strongly in our program, we philosophically made the decision that we’re going to take the best players. And we’re going to trust in our process that it’s the best place for players to develop.”

The Ice will host its annual prospects camp May 31 to June 2, and Matthew Savoie is certain to receive an invitation. Should he make an appearance in Winnipeg, it could be an indication he’s reversing course or just coming to get a better gauge on what the Ice can offer.

Cockell believes the club has made a solid pitch.

“One is the training facility... the best, most sophisticated facility in Western Canada, probably in Canada,” he said. “When you look at all the tools there for a player to develop and get better, if you’re a young player and you want to be the best, and you’re in an accelerated development plan looking to be in the NHL probably at a quicker pace, those are the things that really matter. What your day-to-day looks like, what your environment looks like.”

The renovations planned for the team’s temporary home at the University of Manitoba shouldn’t be a deterrent.

“If I’m a player, I am so thrilled to be playing in this environment,” he said. “It’s going to be full every night. It’s going to be electric.

“We’re going to be investing heavily in a really high-quality game production. I think it’ll be a ton of fun. I know all our players are really excited about this.”

— Sawatzky

The budget increase made sense, although it will still be the smallest venue in the league.

"You do things the right way," said Cockell. "And the right way is providing a WHL experience in the temporary facility we're going to be playing in. At the same time, the connection between the WHL and U Sports is very strong. There's two ways you can do that. You can esthetically do a couple things that maybe isn't a huge investment. Or the way we're doing it here."

Winnipeg Ice says it has received 1,400 deposits for season tickets, and will make another 200 tickets available May 11.

SUPPLIED

Winnipeg Ice says it has received 1,400 deposits for season tickets, and will make another 200 tickets available May 11.

The team has deposits from 1,400 people who've committed to season-ticket purchases and they will be able to select their seats beginning Friday at 11 a.m., based on the order in which their deposits were received. The remaining 200 seats will be available beginning  May 17 at 9 a.m.

The redevelopment also calls for premium seating to be installed on a new balcony on the east side of the building, which will also include an expansion of the current press box. The team is expected to play two seasons at the U of M while a new 4,500-seat arena is built in the southwestern corner of the city.

"As we got into the project, we realized we really wanted to have a unique environment and as we started playing around with the wall on the far side and the things we wanted to do for the media communications area, it just seemed like a natural opportunity to extend that wall and bring it out," said Cockell. 

Spectators at the Winnipeg Ice home games can expect an improved experience once renovations to the Wayne Fleming Arena are complete, the team says.

SUPPLIED

Spectators at the Winnipeg Ice home games can expect an improved experience once renovations to the Wayne Fleming Arena are complete, the team says.

"When we started to see the renderings of it and just the type of seats those are, in terms of being 10 or 12 feet up and being right over the action, we thought it was too good of an experience not to invest in. We want to make sure fans have every opportunity to experience those things up close and personal."

Wayne Fleming Arena, built in 1981 as part of the Max Bell Centre, has been showing its age in recent years and the upgrades are considered timely.

"This is exciting," said Bisons men's hockey coach Mike Sirant. "I'm very impressed with the diagrams and the plans. I think that the partnership between the Winnipeg Ice and the University of Manitoba means huge dividends for the Bisons... Wayne Fleming is a good rink to play in but with the upgrades, it just makes it even better. It'll be more motivating for our players and a create a sense of pride."

The Winnipeg Ice will play in the smallest venue in the Western Hockey League until a new home is built, which is expected to be in the RM of Macdonald.

SUPPLIED

The Winnipeg Ice will play in the smallest venue in the Western Hockey League until a new home is built, which is expected to be in the RM of Macdonald.

Sirant, whose team plays 14 regular-season home games each season, said sharing the facility with the Ice will be a small price to pay.

The Ice will practise and train at the Rink Hockey Academy's new facility on South Landing Drive while playing 34 home dates at the U of M. The WHL team will use the dressing rooms of the U of M men's or women's teams, depending on availability.

Another obvious advantage for Sirant is the possibility of recruiting high-profile players into the program and possibly some directly from the Ice when their junior careers end.

The team is expected to play two seasons at the University of Manitoba while a new 4,500-seat arena is built in the southwestern corner of the city.

SUPPLIED

The team is expected to play two seasons at the University of Manitoba while a new 4,500-seat arena is built in the southwestern corner of the city.

While the Ice prepare to play in a temporary home, the important questions of where and when a new home is built remains. Cockell and Ice owner Greg Fettes would like to build an arena as part of larger commercial development on land adjacent to the recently opened Rink Hockey Academy facility, which is situated just off McGillivray Boulevard in the RM of Macdonald.

For that to happen the area has to be rezoned.

"There are some discussions going on with the RM that I would prefer not... to speak publicly about," said Cockell. "I'm not personally involved in it enough to comment. But all the discussions are positive. There's lots of logistics that go into other elements surrounding the development in addition to the actual land we would look to use. It's probably a bit beyond the scope of what my involvement has been." 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Thursday, May 9, 2019 at 8:43 PM CDT: Adds factbox

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