Grant Ullyot has been a season ticket holder from the beginning, so the red flags were easy for him to see.
Every year at this time, the Chilliwack Bruins would be in contact to make sure he was planning to renew his tickets. If he was at all hesitant, their sales staff would reassure him that the on-ice product was getting better, the ticket package was outstanding and he would not regret signing on for another year.
And he did. Happily, Ullyot occupied a Grant Ullyot seat at Prospera Centre from Chilliwack’s inaugural season of 2006-07 to this year. But three weeks ago, having heard nothing from the Bruins sales staff, he wandered down to the team’s office to order his 2011-12 tickets.
“And he said he wouldn’t take the order,” Ullyot explained. “He said he had to wait until they were printed, and I said, ‘What do you mean? You take the order, you print the tickets and we pick them up before the start of the season.’ And he said, ‘No. It’s going to be a little different this year. I’ll give you a call and let you know.’”
Ullyot already had a bad feeling in his stomach from the last home playoff game. Walking out of the arena after a loss to Spokane, he and a friend were talking about next year’s Bruins. Ryan Howse wasn’t going to be back, nor was Brandon Manning. Kevin Sundher was good and Brandon Magee looked promising.
“We were having a great conversation when all of a sudden this voice from behind us says, ‘It doesn’t matter Grant, the team’s gone goodbye.’ In the dark I couldn’t see who it was, but once we got into some light I saw it was Clint Hames. That was troubling for me and I’m really teed off now that the ownership group has pulled the plug.”
At the time, it was easier to laugh it off and hope for the best.
But now, with the sale and relocation of the team to Victoria a virtual certainty, Ullyot is struggling to come to grips with how it happened.
“Victoria once had a good WHL team and they let it go because they couldn’t support it,” he said. “It wasn’t much of an arena that they played in, but there wasn’t much of a following for that team either. So it surprises me that the league would be so willing to accept that team again. I find it rather disheartening to say the least. But when you get into these types of deals, money talks and everything else takes a back seat.”
He’s far from the only one to feel the sting of betrayal.
“One would think the owners would have had the common courtesy to inform and explain to their long term supporters of their decision to sell the team and relocate it to another city,” said Bruins fans Dean and Betty Johnson in a letter to the editor. “Even more disturbing is the WHL Board of Governors’ role in removing the Bruins from Chilliwack knowing full well that there is a buyer prepared to keep the team here. It opens the door to the speculation that there was a prior mutual agreement between the league and the Bruins ownership to place a team in Victoria. By choosing to remain silent on the matter the WHL brings their credibility as a league into question. If they can treat Chilliwack in such a cavalier fashion, then other WHL cities need to beware.”
Ullyot acknowledged Chilliwack’s own failure to draw crowds, a major factor in the league’s willingness to move the franchise. In particular, he took note of the crowds for the recent playoff games, 2962 for game one and 3217 for game two.
“That was the absolute (rhymes with pits) for a playoff crowd in Chilliwack,” Ullyot said. “Attendance usually jumps in the playoffs, but it sure didn’t jump here.”
Which raises the question, was this ever a Western Hockey League market?
Ullyot is unsure, but if another one set up shop in Chilliwack he knows he would be back in line to support it.
“Would I? Definitely,” he said without hesitation. “And I’d like to think other people would too. What bothered me was when I read that the team didn’t contribute anything to the community. Are you kidding me? You couldn’t ask for more. They go to schools and read books and all that stuff. Reading that really bothered me.”
The fallback option if another WHL team can’t be secured, which seems a long shot, is the return of junior A.
The Chiefs had a long and distinguished run in Chilliwack before the Bruins arrived to shove them out of town.
Ullyot could see himself supporting a BCHL franchise if all else fails.
“There’s a big difference in the calibre of play and players,” Ullyot acknowledged. “In the WHL you watch the future of the NHL. It’s a faster game. I can’t think of anyone on the Chiefs who could skate as well at No. 9 (Tyler Johnson) for Spokane, or for that matter No. 9 for Chilliwack (Sundher). The Chiefs would be a fall-back position, and I know they averaged 3,000 or so fans per game the last time they were here. But I don’t know if they’d draw as well the second time around.”