The irony is not lost on former Chilliwack mayor Clint Hames, who has spent plenty of time lately thinking about the parallels of yesterday and today.
In the present, the Western Hockey League team he helped bring to Chilliwack is rumoured to be leaving, with some media sources reporting sale and relocation to Victoria as a ‘done deal.’ B.C.’s capital is being cast in the same light as Chilliwack was six years ago, a market of vast untapped potential ready for major junior hockey.
Chilliwack’s star has dimmed, to the point where it now plays the role of the Tri-City Americans, circa 2005 — a market with dwindling attendance and unrealized potential that may soon find itself abandoned by the league it embraced.
We know the Americans dodged the relocation bullet, their ownership group granted an expansion franchise in the Fraser Valley. It appears increasingly unlikely that Chilliwack will be so lucky.
What bothers Hames the most is the way it’s playing out.
“There were serious and substantial offers to buy the team and keep it in Chilliwack and I made both Brian Burke (Bruins co-owner) and Ron Robison (WHL comissioner) aware of this,” he said, referring to a publicized offer led by Bruins co-owners Moray Keith and Jim Bond. “Brian Burke confirmed to me that they were not considering any other offers – for whatever reason. He, (Darryl) Porter and (Glen) Sather have a controlling interest in the team, so what Moray and Jim Bond wanted wouldn’t matter as they were minority shareholders.”
Unconfirmed reports this week had the Keith bid sitting well above a bid from Victoria businessman Graham Lee of RG Properties, and Keith has gone on record stating his group is willing and able to out-bid anything that isn’t completely outlandish.
“If the team is sold to Victoria, it flies in the face of what the league has said publicly,” Hames noted. “Mr. Robison has said that the league’s preference is not to move teams. If the team still moves with a bona fide offer in place to keep it in Chilliwack, this would seem to be an rather erroneous and questionable statement by the commissioner.”
Hames holds out hope that the situation can be salvaged and he maintains his belief that the WHL can flourish in Chilliwack, given the right circumstances.
“Unfortunately, the combination of team performance and a period of economic downturn hurt the team, with the Abbotsford Heat issue having a marginal impact,” he said. “I am sure that Moray and Jim (and the community) would like to see the WHL remain, and clearly, there are other people like (Minnesota Twins baseball player) Justin Morneau who also believe in this market. The fact that there was at least one serious offer on the table to keep the team in Chilliwack meant that there is belief in the market.”