By Carter Brooks
Graphic courtesy of the Kootenay Ice
The Western Hockey League's worst serving secret has finally come true.
On Tuesday morning, WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in conjunction with Kootenay ICE owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell announced that the WHL Board of Governors has approved the relocation of the Kootenay ICE to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 WHL season.
The long-rumoured announcement came on the coldest day of 2019, as the owners and commissioner made their statements from Cranbrook, before transporting to Winnipeg for a second media appearance later in the day.
The ICE - who have been situated in Cranbrook since their move from Edmonton in 1998 - will be the first of the 22 WHL teams to relocate since the Chilliwack Bruins moved to Victoria in 2011-12. Kootenay currently sits dead last in WHL attendance and second last in league standings, currently sporting a 10-32-8 record through 50 regular season games.
The ICE will continue to play the remainder of their 2018-19 WHL calendar out of the Western Financial Place in Cranbrook, before taking operations east to Manitoba. Prior to the 2019-20 season, the WHL will undergo some slight conference/division re-alignments, with the Swift Current Broncos moving to the Central Division, and the Winnipeg ICE being added to the East Division.
The Winnipeg ICE will play their first two WHL seasons out of the University of Manitoba's 1,450-seat Wayne Fleming Arena, before making their new home at The RINK's new 4,000-seat facility in the South Landing development area of Oak Bluff. Winnipeg was last home to a WHL team in 1984, before the Winnipeg Warriors left for Moose Jaw.
Kootenay currently rosters five Manitoban players, all eligible to return to the ICE for the 2019-20 season. Head Coach James Patrick was born in Winnipeg, and played 21 seasons in the NHL before coaching for 11 with the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars. Patrick is an uncle to current Philadelphia Flyer Nolan Patrick.