The Western Hockey League today issued a statement that it has granted conditional approval to a request from the ownership of the Chilliwack Bruins for the sale of their WHL franchise.
Tell us something we don’t already know. It also came with a disclaimer: Until such time all of the conditions related to the sale have been satisfied the WHL is not in a position to make any further statement on this transaction.
Hockey fans in Chilliwack want to keep the Bruins where they are, but co-owner Darryl Porter (remember him) and partners — NHL GMs Brian Burke (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Glen Sather (New York Rangers) — want to sell the team to investors in Victoria.
Apparently, Chilliwack is not the “pure hockey environment” that Porter said a team needed to be in to thrive. Neither was Tri-City. Apparently, Darryl don’t know hockey.
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Reports out of Chilliwack and Vancouver have reported that the sale is already a done deal and that it just needs the stamp of approval from the WHL board of governors, who must approve any sale and the move of any team.
The new prospective owner is Graham Lee’s RG Properties, which owns the 7,000-seat Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria. Lee has reportedly wanted a WHL team for nearly 10 years, but hasn’t been able to secure one.
CKNW (Vancouver) sports director Jim Mullin has been outspoken about the Chilliwack sale and Burke for a couple of weeks, so much so that Burke’s lawyers sent him a letter telling him to stop. You can read parts of that letter here.
Moray Keith and Jim Bond, also co-owners of the Bruins, want to keep the team in Chilliwack, but they are the odd men out. A confidentiality agreement among the owners prohibits Keith and Bond from speaking on the record, but former Chilliwack mayor Clint Hames was more than happy to voice his opinion.
“I don’t know what the word is — the closest is betrayed,” Hames said Tuesday morning. “One of the original thoughts was that the Tri-City team was fed up and wanted to move. We were told Tri-City wasn’t a hockey market and no one was coming to the games. We were told it was like taking an old dog out of the shelter. That was the story we were told.
“We were disappointed when the league turned the move down. Then we learned quite quickly that what we heard about Tri-City was wrong. Then we got the expansion franchise. The building here is owned privately, but is in a partnership with the city. The city put $1.2 million into the building to add more seating and other things to bring a WHL team here. It not only was an emotional investment, but a monetary one, as well. It’s a little perplexing to have it all pulled away.”
Fans are holding a rally Wednesday at Prospera Centre to try and keep the team in Chilliwack. Keith and Bond, who own a combined 25 percent of the Bruins, have a competing bid to keep the Bruins intact, but the rest of the ownership group reportedly won’t consider their offer. According to Keith, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, a native of British Columbia, is on board to help back him and Bond to keep the team in place. Morneau’s father George lives in Chilliwack.
“Darryl has projected a negativity toward the team the last couple of years,” Hames said. “He says ‘No one supports us.’ The biggest job I had was settling people down after they met with him. I think he made his mind up shortly after arriving that this wasn’t going to work. He felt he was entitled to a full building. He often criticized the public for not supporting the team.”
The Bruins, who have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs the last two years, also have faced criticism about their product on the ice.
“Junior hockey fans are fickle,” Hames said. “If you aren’t winning, they get tired of it. You have to make a commitment to winning, You have to have the right people in place, otherwise the fans won’t come. They had a decent season this year, but at the trading deadline people thought something would happen and it didn’t. At the end of the day, (the team) said there were no good deals out there. The message that comes to the community is that ‘we are good enough.’ ”
My thought about this whole mess is that the Bruins will be sold to Lee and another WHL franchise will move to Chilliwack. The Prince George Cougars and Kootenay Ice are two teams in that conversation. The bright spot that can come out of this mess is that Darryl Porter no longer will be a wart on the backside of the WHL.
“They’ve gone from creating a situation in Tri-City to the same situation in Chilliwack, now other places,” Hames said. “When this all shakes out, I don’t think the league looks very good. Neither do Darryl and his partners.”