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This article was published 14/11/2018 (832 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Western Hockey League hasn't confirmed the Kootenay Ice is relocating to Winnipeg next season but there are obvious signs a move to Manitoba is already a done deal.

On Wednesday, a community group organized to help team owners boost ticket sales and thereby help to keep the team in Cranbrook, B.C., announced it had suspended operations and would return all the money it had raised during a recent ticket drive.

John Hudak, who served as the marketing director of the Green Bay Committee until its dissolution, said his volunteer group had lost faith in majority owner Greg Fettes and minority partner Matt Cockell, who also serves as president and general manager of the club. The committee, which received no feedback from the club, sent a letter to Cockell Tuesday expressing disappointment in the team's ownership.

Fettes and Cockell, both from Winnipeg, purchased the franchise from the Chynoweth family in the spring of 2017. Fettes is the CEO of 24/7 Intouch, a vast global call-centre company founded by Fettes and his brother Jeff Fettes 18 years ago.

"It's out of our hands, it's up to the owners," said Hudak via telephone. "Like somebody asked me, 'What do you think?' Well, the last time I checked I wasn't a psychologist and I wasn't a mind-reader. I don't know what's going on the minds of Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes. They're the people that have to answer that."

Late Wednesday, a planned team-hosted media event failed to materialize but sources told the Free Press that an announcement is being planned for next week.

Moving the team requires two-thirds approval — or 15 of the 22 member teams — in a vote of the league’s board of governors. Neither Fettes nor WHL commissioner Ron Robison were available for comment.

The Ice, currently 7-12-2-1 and fifth in the WHL’s Central Division, have experienced a significant decline in attendance in one of the league's smallest markets. HockeyDB.com lists Kootenay's average per game attendance at 2,244, which is dead last in the WHL.

Hudak was asked if he now feels the current ownership group always intended to move the team to Winnipeg.

"It's out of our hands, it's up to the owners. Like somebody asked me, 'What do you think?' Well, the last time I checked I wasn't a psychologist and I wasn't a mind-reader. I don't know what's going on the minds of Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes. They're the people that have to answer that." — John Hudak, who served as the marketing director of the Green Bay Committee

"Well, I'll put it to you this way, there are certain people in town who feel that way," said Hudak, who said he personally sold approximately $15,000 worth of tickets in 10 days during the recent drive. "I'm not going to dodge the bullet on that one but as far as the committee was concerned, we felt that if we went out and did our work and helped the present ownership out here, that we could sit down and be able to keep the team here."

Upon relocation, the Ice are expected to use the cramped quarters at the University of Manitoba's aging Wayne Fleming Arena as a new home for up to two seasons while a new arena, seating between 4,500 and 5,000 spectators, is constructed on a parcel of land next to The Rink Academy's new digs on South Landing, near the corner of McGillivray Boulevard and Loudoun Road.

It is believed the 1,400-seat Fleming Arena would need some renovations to be suitable for major-junior hockey.

The league has a lengthy, often troubled history in the Manitoba capital.

The Winnipeg Warriors were tenants at Winnipeg Arena beginning in 1980 but had their own attendance problems and a poor on-ice product that resulted in the franchise being sold and moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., in 1984.

Before that, a franchise began as the WHL’s Winnipeg Jets from 1967 to 1973, became the Winnipeg Clubs (1973-76) and then the Winnipeg Monarchs (1976-77). That team moved to Calgary to become the Wranglers and is now called the Hurricanes, who have since relocated to Lethbridge, Alta.

 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

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

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Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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