On January 29, 2019, the Western Hockey League’s board of governors approved the relocation of the Kootenay ICE to Winnipeg, with the junior hockey team becoming the Winnipeg ICE. The team is set to begin play at the Wayne Fleming Arena at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry Campus in the fall of 2019.
The move means an end to the long absence of major junior hockey teams in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Warriors played four seasons between the fall of 1980 and the spring of 1984, before moving to Moose Jaw, where the Warriors still play today.
Before the Warriors, the first major junior franchise played in what was then called the Western Canadian Hockey League, starting in 1967. The team played as the Winnipeg Jets for six seasons, changed their name to the Winnipeg Clubs for three seasons then changed it to the Winnipeg Monarchs for their final season in 1976-77. The team then moved to Calgary for a decade before relocating again and becoming the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
All told, Winnipeg has been host to 14 seasons of WHL/WCHL hockey, with seven playoff appearances during that time.
The ICE entered the WHL in 1996 as the Edmonton Ice, before relocating to Cranbrook, British Columbia, a city with a population around 20,000, in 1998. For their first 20 seasons, the ICE made the playoffs each year, highlighted by three trips to the Memorial Cup, winning the tournament in 2001-02. They won the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions three times as well.
While there has been success on the ice for the team, the off ice support has been a different story, with a decline in attendance since moving into the 4,264-seat Western Financial Place in 2000. Support picked up in the past couple of years, as an ownership change happened and rumours of relocation swirled, but the efforts to keep the team from moving were in vain, a story Winnipeg fans know all too well.
The Winnipeg ICE attendance numbers will drop even lower for their first two seasons, as they await the construction of a new arena off of McGillivray Boulevard, which will seat 4,500 people.
The ICE will play their first two season at the U of M’s Wayne Fleming Arena, with a seating capacity of around 1,400. Season ticket deposits have gone well, with the last update being that more than 1,000 have been sold so far.
On the ice
Kootenay currently sits in last place in the WHL’s Central Division, with a record of 22-32-7-1. The team currently has no players drafted by NHL teams on their roster, but has nine players eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, with captain Peyton Krebs leading the way with 56 points in 47 games, and projecting to be a top 10 pick by numerous people in the know.
NHL Central Scouting has Krebs ranked 8th among North American Skaters, while centre Cole Muir is ranked 160th and goaltender Jesse Makaj is ranked 21st among North American goalies. The ICE also have 16-year-old Connor McClennon, who was picked second overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, has 18 points in 29 games this year, and projects to be a top prospect in the class of 2020.
Overall, plenty to look forward to for the 2019-20 season, and hopefully for many years to come.