Fresh start for major junior hockey in Victoria

League makes it official, 'dub’ back on Vancouver Island

Clockwise from bottom left

RG Properties and the Western Hockey League put rumours to rest on Wednesday by confirming the relocation of the Chilliwack Bruins to Victoria for the 2011-12 season.

The WHL was last in the city when the Victoria Cougars played here from 1971 to 1994, before moving to Prince George.

Training camp for the yet-to-be named team will be held in Victoria this August.

The announcement came on a game day at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, overshadowing the Victoria Salmon Kings’ home playoff date that night.

Th status of the Bruins current hockey operations staff will be announced at a later date, as will the future of the Salmon Kings, said Dave Dakers, president of RG Sports and Entertainment.

“We’re deferring hockey operations matters until after the Salmon Kings’ season.”

Season tickets for the WHL team are available to reserve at www.vicwhl.com with priority going to Salmon Kings’ season ticket holders.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison said the league is excited about bringing the WHL back to Victoria.

“Graham Lee (CEO of RG Properties) was relentless in his pursuit of a team since initiating the building of (SOFMC) in 2001.”

With mounting pressure from the American Hockey League’s presence in the Lower Mainland with the Abbotsford Heat, Victoria’s market became a target for the WHL.

Added Robison: “Our league’s board of governor’s agreed in 2009 to relocate a team to Victoria and, in January of 2011, the majority owners of the Chilliwack Bruins made their team available.”

Relocation was preferred over expansion.

“We didn’t want to expand the WHL any further. We wanted to stick with (the current) 22 teams to be that much more competitive to win Memorial Cups.”

The name Bruins has been dropped. New names such as the Capitals, Dragons, Tide and Force were listed in a website poll but are by no means the final choices, Dakers said.

“We’re open to other names and invite suggestions. We’re not likely to stay with the Salmon Kings name, however, with there already being the Brandon Wheat Kings and Edmonton Oil Kings.”

For now, Bruins’ head coach and general manager Marc Habscheid will remain at the helm of hockey operations. Habscheid guided the 2003-04 Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup championship, led Team Canada to gold at the 2004 world junior championship and was an assistant coach for Canada at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Former Victoria Cougar Jackson Penney, who played for the team from 1987-1990, said Wednesday’s announcement puts a buzz back in Victoria’s hockey scene.

“It’s a bonus getting an existing team, it’s excitement we haven’t had. They’ve got credible coaching and will compete right off the bat.”

Penney owns and coaches the Peninsula Panthers junior-B team. He played in Europe with fellow ex-Cougars and recalls being disappointed when they heard Victoria’s club had moved to Prince George.

“At the time it was disappointing, there was such a tradition with the Cougars, Mark Morrison and Grant Fuhr won championships. Once the team left there wasn’t much for hockey around the capital.”

Bruins’ history

In five season, the Chilliwack Bruins made the playoffs four times, but only finished above .500 once (2010-11).

To date, there have been two Chilliwack Bruins to play in the NHL: Oscar Moller (Los Angeles Kings) and Nick Holden (Columbus Blue Jackets).

Chilliwack’s leading scorer in 2010-11 was Ryan Howse (52 goals, 32 assists), who signed a three year entry deal with the Calgary Flames this year.

The 2011 WHL Bantam Draft happens May 5 in Calgary.

Door open for Memorial Cup, world juniors

Robison said its “feasible and realistic” the international under-20 world hockey championships could come to Victoria within five years.

At that scale, however, SOFMC’s 7,000 seats are limited, relegating Victoria to a supporting role as a co-host with Vancouver. It likely rules out any world junior games featuring Canada, but not necessarily.

The Memorial Cup national championship is on the long term radar, Robison said. Being a smaller scale tourney than the world juniors, but just as hard if not harder to get, Victoria could host the Memorial Cup outright.

sports@vicnews.com

 

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