While no one has yet to officially go on record, several media outlets are reporting that the Chilliwack Bruins have been sold to Victoria interests that include real-estate mogul Graham Lee and RG Properties.
A Vancouver radio station reported late this afternoon that Bruins co-owner Moray Keith had confirmed the sale. Vancouver Island based Chek TV reported it as fact on the sports segment of their news cast.
However, another Bruins co-owner, Darryl Porter, sent a text message to Bruins radio play-by-play man Randy Merkley stating that a deal was not done.
Keith was not returning calls or e-mails as of Thursday night, however, he did send this text message to the Progress.
“Hi Eric. I am bound by a confidentiality agreement. Jim Bond and I continue to support hockey in Chilliwack and are working hard in that direction.”
Keith cancelled a radio interview in Vancouver at the last minute, again citing the confidentiality clause.
Assuming the worst, a Bruins sale and subsequent relocation application would require approval from the Western Hockey League’s board of governors. The league has gone quiet over the last few days, declining to return calls or e-mails. Given the league’s stated desire to establish operations on the Island, it is likely the board of governors would give the green light, despite the fact that Keith’s competing bid to buy the Bruins and keep them in Chilliwack is reported to be much larger than the bid accepted by the majority stake-holders; Brian Burke, Glen Sather and Porter.
Keith’s bid reportedly included major league baseball slugger Justin Morneau and Los Angeles Kings defenceman, and the car magnate has publically stated that he had the capital to out-bid any reasonable bid for the Bruins.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison was quoted in the Progress recently saying that the league prefers local ownership, and these latest developments would fly directly in the face of those comments.
The loss of the Bruins would leave Keith and business partner Jim Bond without a tenant for their building, Prospera Centre, operated under the Chiefs Development Group banner. Speculation has Keith aggressively pursuing another WHL franchise, with the Prince George Cougars the most likely candidate.
While the Cougars have an eight-year lease and an owner (Rick Brodsky) who has thus far refused to sell, the speculation makes a lot of logistical sense for the league. Attendance has been dwindling in PG and the city’s remoteness from the rest of the league creates tons of travel headaches.
Having Prince George and Victoria in the same conference would double the headaches, whereas keeping Chilliwack would create a far better scenario. The Kootenay Ice have also been mentioned as a far less likely candidate, and the junior A B.C. Hockey League has a long history in Chilliwack with the Chiefs (now in Langley). The BCHL has a dormant franchise in Williams Lake.
Reaction within Chilliwack is expected to be highly negative.
The entire minor hockey association recently outfitted themselves in Junior Bruins jerseys, and the team was linked financially to the new pediatric centre at the Chilliwack General Hospital. It’s open for debate whether the conditions existed for the franchise to have a fair shake in the Fraser Valley.
Beyond the incursion of the American Hockey League into Abbotsford, the Bruins also existed during one of the biggest global economic meltdowns in memory. Add to that a tepid on-ice product with no defining moments and it is no surprise that attendance has dipped substantially since years one and two.
Stay tuned as this story develops.