British Columbia

'It's been a big disappointment': The Kootenay ICE is leaving the Kootenays

After much speculation, fans received the news this morning that the Kootenay ICE is leaving Cranbrook and heading to Winnipeg next season because of low attendance.

After 20 years, the WHL hockey team is relocating to Winnipeg

Kootenay ICE teammates Joe Antilla and Matt Fraser celebrate a goal during a Memorial Cup game in 2011. The WHL franchise has had dwindling attendance this season. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

After much speculation, Kootenay ICE fans received the news Tuesday morning that the team is leaving Cranbrook and heading to Winnipeg for the 2019/20 season because of low attendance in the stands. 

WHL commissioner Rob Robison said in a statement that the franchise is no longer viable in the Kootenay market.

"It is a difficult decision, but given low attendance trends and the support required to operate a WHL club, it is necessary to move the franchise to a market where it can be sustainable on a long-term basis," said Robison.

Hockey data website, hockeyDB.com, shows that attendance for Kootenay ICE games is the lowest in the league so far this season. 

Fan disappointment

The Kootenay ICE has been in Cranbrook since 1998 and has developed some very dedicated fans.

Longtime season ticket holder Ron Miles rarely misses a game — he thinks he only missed three in the first 17 seasons — but, he isn't too surprised by the move.

"It's been a big disappointment of course," Miles told Radio West producer Josh Pagé. "But, to be honest, the way I reflect on it is we've got 20 years of unbelievable hockey in a town that we probably never should have had the right to have a team of that caliber." 

Miles said that a lot of hardcore fans that he knows now only come to a few games a season instead of buying season tickets. 

"That's unfortunate, because they're trying to run a business, and, you know, how can you do that if you're not selling enough product?" said Miles. 

'This was inevitable'

Fellow season ticket holder Alex Jensen billeted players on the team and went to four Memorial Cups, but he too wasn't surprised by the announcement.

'We just knew that this was inevitable. Today was just the final nail in the coffin," Jensen said to Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

Jensen says the team's jerseys were missing a key word.

"The  jerseys have no "Kootenay" on them. They only have "ICE" on them and the level of the team was horrible," he adds. 

The team is in last place in the Central Division

'Tired of them'

Jensen may have been a fan of the team, but not of the owners, Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who took over in 2017.

"They sold the boxes. They sold the advertising, around the rink. They sold all the between periods entertainment to businesses, giving us this impression that they were going to hang around and they loved our community, and we were wonderful," he said. "And, so, all of a sudden, here they are, they're leaving."

Jensen said he thinks Cranbrook is ready for something new.

"We're tired of them," he said. "When something dies, something new comes. And this is a great community. We're a hockey town and we will bounce back."

with files from Radio West and Daybreak South

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