British Columbia

City of Cranbrook sues junior hockey team and WHL over move to Manitoba

Documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court say both the Kootenay Ice franchise and Western Hockey League are responsible for revenue lost by the City of Cranbrook when the club moved to Winnipeg in 2019.

Civil claim says the Kootenay Ice franchise breached its arena deal when it moved to Winnipeg in 2019

Kootenay Ice players celebrate a goal during a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2011. The franchised moved from Cranbrook, B.C., to Winnipeg, Man., in 2019. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The City of Cranbrook in southeastern B.C. is suing the major junior hockey team that left town for Manitoba two years ago, along with the Western Hockey League.

A civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court says both the Winnipeg Ice (formerly Kootenay Ice) and WHL are responsible for breaking an arena deal that was supposed to run through June 2023.

The claim says the city is out approximately $178,000 per year as a result. 

The franchise was bought by Winnipeg-based 50 Below Sports in 2017 and moved to Winnipeg in 2019.

The club was originally founded as the Edmonton Ice in 1996 by former club owner and WHL president Ed Chynoweth. Chenowyth relocated the club to Cranbrook in 1998.

The early Kootenay Ice years were good. The club won the WHL title in 2000 and again in 2002, when it also captured the Memorial Cup, awarded to the best junior hockey team in Canada. 

The club won a third and final WHL title in 2011, but then the winning dropped off and so did the fans.

In 2017, Ice owner and general manager Jeff Chenowyth told CBC the team was "bleeding" money with average home game attendance down to 1,700 in an arena that seats over 4,000. 

Rumours had the franchise moving to Nanaimo, B.C., but that option evaporated when citizens of the Vancouver Island city voted against borrowing money to build a new arena.

In the Cranbrook claim, the city says in addition to arena lease fees, it collected 100 per cent of the parking and concession money and a cut of the club's advertising revenue. 

It says the WHL should have been aware that by approving the franchise's move to Winnipeg, contracts would be broken causing the city to lose money. 

The WHL and Winnipeg Ice have yet to file a response. None of the claims have been tested in court.

With files from Bob Keating

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