Hard to find any winners in the Chilliwack Bruins controversy

If it’s true that silence can be deafening, then the entire city of Chilliwack ought to be fitted with hearing aids tout suite.

As this town’s Western Hockey League team is sloooooowly ripped away, those who could and should be answering questions have clammed up, refusing to offer even the slightest smidgen of information that might prove useful.

Loyal fans who’ve stuck by their team since day one have been shoved to the side, left to guess at what might be going on as guys in suits figure out the fate of their beloved Bruins. In the absence of answers there is anger, with plenty of targets for their venom.

The league itself is the biggest villain in this mess. Multi-million dollar transactions don’t pop up overnight, and they certainly don’t happen without the knowledge of the league office. Whatever he has said in public, and it isn’t much, you can bet WHL commissioner Ron Robison and his inner circle have been aware of everything every step of the way.

Asked on March 4 whether the league intended to have the Bruins in Chilliwack for 2011-12, he said, “It is certainly our intent and we haven’t considered anything different at this point.”

Even if you accept that statement at face value, “at this point” leaves the window open for just about anything.

And when the heat really turned up, Robison couldn’t even offer semantics, going completely dark.  Repeated requests for interviews from The Progress and other media outlets have been ignored, not even warranting a response from the league office.

With one market left twisting in the wind and at least two others (Prince George and Cranbrook) being dragged into the fray, the WHL has had absolutely nothing to say other than to release a two-line news release, granting “conditional approval to a request from the ownership of the Chilliwack Bruins for the sale of their WHL franchise.”

Brandi Brodsky, vice-president of the Prince George Cougars, told the Prince George Free Press that her organization had been told to keep their mouths shut about the Bruins situation, risking a fine from the league if they didn’t.

The one guy who wanted to pipe up during this drama was Bruins co-owner Moray Keith, who conducted a lengthy interview with The Progress on March 12. In that interview, he publicly stated that he and fellow Bruins co-owner Jim Bond had the ability and willingness to out-bid anyone to keep the team in Chilliwack.

It was Keith who confirmed Chilliwack’s sale to Victoria-based RG Properties, providing that info to Vancouver radio station CKNW 980 on March 31. He was scheduled to go on air the next morning to talk to Chilliwack hockey fans (strange, given CKNW 980 comes through as an illegible burst of static most days in the eastern Fraser Valley). But Keith pulled out at the last second, citing a previously unknown confidentiality agreement.

He hasn’t said a word since.

Brian Burke and Glen Sather have been well insulated, weathering the storm from the remote comfort of the east (Toronto and New York respectively). And local managing partner Darryl Porter has slipped entirely off the radar.

A lousy on-ice product has been cited as the main reason for Chilliwack’s plummeting attendance, which followed a steady downhill curve in the first round years before rebounding slightly this season  (4467, 4529, 4073, 3260 and 3357).

What hasn’t been said publicly but many will say privately is that Porter has been a poor fit in this market.

Chilliwack’s situation, in fact, mirrors closely what happened in Kennewick, WA. when Porter was running the Tri-City Americans. Faced with an erosion of local support, the Ams were within a whisker of relocation before the league wisely found a way to keep Tri-City and gave Porter, Burke and Sather an expansion team in Chilliwack.

Six years later and the parallels cannot be ignored.

Local hockey fans can’t be entirely absolved of blame in the mess they find themselves in. Had there been more butts in the seats over the last three seasons, Chilliwack would be viewed as a thriving major junior market and not a target for relocation.

Clearly, there are reasons for the fan apathy. But their staying away from Prospera Centre made it all too easy for the league to go down this path.

What will the final outcome be? We can guess, but no one knows for sure until the master plan unfolds.

Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi once famously said, “They’re not lies if we know the truth.”

Strange isn’t it?

We’d almost prefer lies to the silence we’ve got right now.

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