WHL commish called on quotes

Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison was forced to defend himself Wednesday night as his own statements from early March were thrown back at him.

In a Progress article published Mar. 4, Robison offered several quotes that seemed comforting to the Chilliwack hockey fan.

Asked whether the Bruins had been sold or a letter of intent signed, he said no.

Semantics perhaps, but clearly the wheels were well into motion.

Asked whether the Bruins would be playing in Chilliwack in 2011-12, he offered this.

“It is certainly our intent and we haven’t considered anything different at this point.”

Asked about the league’s strong desire to get into Victoria, he offered this.

“We are very interested in that possibility, and it’s just been a case of whether we can accommodate that. At this point, we’re not in a position to do that.”

And yet here we are today. Victoria suddenly has a team while Chilliwack does not.

And the prospects of one showing up for the 2011-12 season ranks somewhere between slim and none.

“Our objective always is to leave franchises where they are, and there are a lot of conditions that had to be met prior to the sale being approved,” Robison said when asked about those quotes. “So we were very much in the early stages of discussions then and we could not comment on what was taking place.”

In the WHL’s news release on Wednesday, the league cited a strategic plan and a desire to get into Victoria with relocation and not expansion.

For a league that wants franchises to stay put, it sure read like the WHL was waiting like a vulture for a team to falter.

If the Kootenay Ice or Prince Albert Raiders had come onto the market, it may just as easily have been them, although Robison painted the picture of a Bruins franchise in serious distress.

“The changed market, the deteriorating relationship within the ownership group and the inability to reach a lease agreement, those were the tests we went through before agreeing that it was in the best interests to relocate that franchise,” Robison said. “The Regina Pats are an example of a franchise we would not consider relocating. We understand the landscape in most of our markets, and Chilliwack presented a different situation.”

Moray Keith had publicly offered to buy the team and keep it in Chilliwack and claims neither he nor business partner Jim Bond ever agreed to sell.

Just like Brian Burke and Darryl Porter, Robison wound things back to a Jan. 13 conference call where all five Bruin owners (Burke, Sather, Porter, Bond and Keith) allegedly green-lighted the sale along with exclusive negotiations with Victoria.

Robison admitted that once the owners agreed to sell, local offers were not going to be considered, but insisted the league didn’t wade into things until the Bruins owners made their decision.

“We awaited that decision before the league acted,” Robison said. “Once that happened, everyone understood that confidentiality agreements applied  and we were not in a position to comment.”

Robison’s biggest problem now may be polishing up the league’s tarnished image.

Other markets have taken note of Chilliwack’s treatment, and when Nanaimo or another hot market comes calling for a team in the next few years, it will be remembered.

“We have franchises that need improvements to remain viable moving forward,” Robison said in non-comforting fashion. “It’s unfortunate circumstances that have led to this, and this shouldn’t reflect on the market and the fans, and we believe Chilliwack is still a viable WHL market and we would have interest in going back in the future.”

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