The current St. John's IceCaps club will be moving, but the city will have hockey, Danny Williams says — even if he has to buy a franchise himself.
The IceCaps CEO and former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed the news on Tuesday.
Williams said he always knew that it was a possibility that Winnipeg would want its farm team closer to home turf.
'We're optimistic that we will get a replacement team here, and if necessary, I'm quite prepared to go out and buy an AHL franchise in order to keep hockey here in the city.' - Danny Williams, IceCaps CEO
"It's not a surprise for us as an organization. In all fairness to Winnipeg, they've been very up front with us from day one," Williams said.
"We asked for a five-year contract, they gave us three, and they extended it to four, on the understanding that if an opportunity arose close to home, which would be Thunder Bay, that they would in fact be prepared to move the team back there."
Williams said he was told some time ago that the Jets organization was making an application with the City of Thunder Bay. He said a decision came down last night that they were the preferred bidder.
"Over the course of the last three or four months, we as an organization …have put together a prospectus on the city and on the team, and marketed the province and the city to the AHL through Dave Andrews as president, and to some other AHL teams. So we're way ahead of this. We're out in front of it," he said.
"We're optimistic that we will get a replacement team here, and if necessary, I'm quite prepared to go out and buy an AHL franchise in order to keep hockey here in the city."
Williams said the new team will have the St. John's IceCaps name and logo.
Club planning move to Thunder Bay
The news travelled quickly on Tuesday that the future of the St. John's IceCaps was unclear, amid reports that its parent organization plans to move its American Hockey League franchise to Ontario.
An IceCaps official confirmed, but then retracted, a report that True North Sports and Entertainment was moving its AHL franchise to Thunder Bay.
Mark Chipman, the chair of True North, which owns the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, later confirmed the organization wants to move the club to Ontario.
"This is a real preliminary step. We've been in communication with our partners in St. John's from the moment that this became a possibility. And it's something that we're going to explore," he said.
"There's a lot of work to be done for it to become a reality."
The move appears to be contingent on the construction of a new civic centre in Thunder Bay, for which financing is not yet in place.
CBC Thunder Bay reported that the events centre is not yet a done deal.
Travel was 'very challenging'
Chipman said the issue of travel played a big factor in the move.
"We have a great relationship with Danny and his group in St. John's, but the travel has really proven to be very, very challenging," he said.
"The distance, not just the moving players, but you know, our ability [for] our management to get in with frequency and see these kids develop, has been challenging."
Chipman said the earliest that the Jets farm team would move to Ontario would be during the 2016-2017 season.