Junior achievement

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

REGINA -- It was nowhere near unanimous.

Edmonton was not welcomed back to the Western Hockey League with trumpets, a red carpet and a path of rose petals.

But junior hockey is back in town!

More importantly, it's back with a chance to thrive and survive.

Edmonton yesterday was awarded a conditional franchise in the Western Hockey League to begin play in 2007-08.

And this time - for the first time since the Oil Kings left for Portland when the Oilers came into existence - it has a chance, a very real chance, to succeed.

The new franchise required two thirds majority -14 votes - and had them. Barely.

SOME FOR, SOME AGAINST

The votes in favour came because the owners believed Edmonton would be successful.

Some of the votes against, ironically, came largely for the same reason.

"There are concerns about greater disparity between the smaller markets and the larger markets," said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison.

The Heartland of Hockey also supplies more junior players to the other teams than anywhere else in Western Canada. Now many of them will want to stay home. Which, come to think of it, should be the No. 1 reason to support a major junior team in the first place.

But there are two major reasons why the decision made yesterday at the league meetings in Calgary will result in a successful Edmonton franchise this time around.

1. It has nothing to do with Northlands.

2. It has everything to do with the Oilers.

Northlands involvement and the use of the AgriCom, one of the world's worst designs for a hockey rink, was one of the major reasons the Edmonton Ice flopped before moving to Kootenay and becoming an exceptionally successful franchise.

Northlands parking charges chased a lot of fans away and Robison warns that's a concern which put the "conditional" in the announcement of the granting of the franchise yesterday. The cars still have to park in the same place.

"Parking is going to be a concern. Very moderate pricing is our philosophy."

With the new team to play in Rexall Place, a building the Oilers wouldn't allow the Ice to cross 118th Avenue to play a single game in the last time around, it's a whole different deal. The NHL team is there to give it all the help in the world instead of all the opposition in the world as was the case the last time around.

"The conditions are entirely different," said Robison in a telephone interview moments after making the announcement at the league meetings in Calgary.

"I believe the new Edmonton franchise will be as successful as the Calgary Hitmen and the Vancouver Giants."

The danger is in competing against yourself. I'm convinced a great many of the empty seats in the Saddledome in the remarkable run of seasons the Flames missed the playoffs were partially due to fans getting more bang for their buck going to the junior games. It isn't a problem when the NHL team is going strong, as Calgary proved last year.

In Calgary and Vancouver, the number of corporate ticket sales is far greater than in Edmonton. The average fan can still go to Oiler games and the dollars are still relatively reasonable.

The bottom line is that getting the junior team puts even more pressure on Kevin Lowe and his hockey side of the operation to be successful. It also puts pressure on the hockey side to hire good people to make the junior team successful.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Edmonton will play in a six-team Central Division. Swift Current will move to the East Division to create a six-team division on that side, with Kootenay moving over to join Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge in the Central.

"A lot of teams, quite frankly, don't like the unbalanced conference scenario," said Robison of the teams left on the other side of the mountains in B.C. and the U.S.

But enough votes were there to make it happen. This time I think it will succeed. And maybe, just maybe, this was the final piece of the puzzle to make the 2009 Edmonton-Calgary joint World Junior bid a winner.


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