Manitoba

Season tickets for WHL's Winnipeg Ice are hot item

Any doubt the Winnipeg market can afford another hockey team is quickly being erased by a team that has yet to arrive.

WHL team says just 100 season ticket reservations left for inaugural season in Winnipeg

The franchise has been located in Cranbrook since 1988 and known as the Kootenay Ice, but falling attendance numbers made it impossible to stay there any longer, team officials said. (Winnipeg Ice)

Any doubt the Winnipeg market can afford another hockey team is quickly being erased by a team that has yet to arrive.

Season tickets for the soon-to-be-relocated Winnipeg Ice are nearly all spoken for, says 50 Below Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group for the Western Hockey League franchise.

Only 100 season ticket reservations remain available for home games in the 2019-20 season.

The inaugural and sophomore seasons will be played in the 1,400-seat Wayne Fleming Arena at the University of Manitoba until a new arena is built.

"We have 1,300 seats committed … so the initial response has exceeded our expectations, there's no question," said co-owner and Ice president Matt Cockell, a Winnipegger and WHL alumnus who played with the Saskatoon Blades, Seattle Thunderbirds, Regina Pats and Spokane Chiefs.

The initial response has exceeded our expectations, there's no question.- Matt  Cockell

It's particularly impressive when you consider the price for those season tickets — which were made available starting Jan. 30 — hasn't even been announced yet.

Right now, people can pay a $50 deposit, which secures the chance to choose a seat once full prices are revealed.

"We're very appreciative, and I will say that for anyone that's been in the Wayne Fleming arena, there really is no no bad seat," Cockell said.

"It's going to be an incredible experience for the first couple of years."

A new arena for the Winnipeg Ice will feature 4,500 seats. (50 Below Sports and Entertainment)

Season ticket prices haven't been finalized because Cockell and the others are still researching to find the balance between affordable, fan-friendly entertainment and a price that makes the operation of the team realistic.

"But I think people will certainly find that the pricing of WHL hockey to be very affordable for the type of entertainment that's offered," he said.

When ticket prices are revealed, anyone who feels the cost is beyond what they wanted can back out, but will forfeit the $50 deposit.

If all the season tickets are sold, people can still pay the deposit and get on a waiting list. Anyone later wanting off that list would be refunded their $50.

A new, 4,500-seat home arena for the Ice is being planned and all season-ticket fans, as well as those on the wait list, will get first crack at the seats.

Cockell and majority Ice owner Greg Fettes, a fellow Winnipegger, purchased the team in 2017. They tried to keep the team in Cranbrook, B.C., where it has been since 1998 and known as the Kootenay Ice, but said falling attendance numbers made that impossible.

The team's relocation was announced last month.

Many hockey options

​​Winnipeg's last WHL franchise, the Warriors, left in 1984, relocating to Moose Jaw after finding it a challenge to pull in fans in a market with the NHL's Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets, citing a market that couldn't afford the team, followed suit in 1996, resettling in Phoenix, Ariz.

Times have changed since then.

Kootenay Ice players celebrate a goal during a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2011. The team won the trophy for the best junior hockey club in the nation in 2002 and 2000. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The NHL returned to the city in 2011 and the new Jets play routinely to a boisterous and sold-out arena. Their professional farm team, the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, are also based in the city.

Despite the competition for the entertainment dollar, Cockell believes the Ice will get the support needed to do well.

The pace of season ticket sales alone "provides increased optimism," he said.

"We've spent a lot of time with our ownership group doing research and coming up with a model that we feel is sustainable and what we've seen in terms of the response in Winnipeg so far has been — it's been very motivating and encouraging."

New arena location

The Ice ownership group also owns the Rink player development facility and hockey academy.

It announced last summer it is building a 95,000-square-foot "state-of-the-art" training centre that will open this spring on McGillivray Boulevard in southwest Winnipeg.

Cockell would prefer the new arena be built in the same place but the exact location hasn't been nailed down yet.

"We do have a couple other locations as well and those would be details that are shared in the coming months," he said.

In the meantime, the group still needs to put attention on the Ice squad that is playing its final season in Cranbrook.

"We want to do everything possible to finish the right way and we're focused on that right now," Cockell said.

The team currently sits 20th in the 22-team WHL standings, with a record of 11 wins, 33 losses, seven overtime losses and one shootout loss after 52 games.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Ice has been in Cranbrook since 1988. The correct year is 1998.
    Feb 08, 2019 9:15 AM CT

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

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