Oilers get into junior hockey

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

The request was granted.

Major junior hockey is on its way back to Edmonton.

Yesterday, the Edmonton Investors Group were awarded an expansion franchise by the Western Hockey League to commence play for the 2007-2008 season.

"We're excited, it's good," said Allan Watt, of the Edmonton Oilers. "Some people in our organization, most notably (president and CEO) Patrick LaForge, worked really hard on securing a junior team, so it's a pretty big day."

LaForge could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But once the Oilers' owners review and accept the conditions imposed by the WHL governors, Edmonton will become the 22nd franchise in the league. Then they'll have less than 18 months to get a team on the ice.

"We have to get a junior hockey franchise put together from top to bottom," Watt said. "We're looking forward to it, but that year and a bit is going to go by in a hurry."

TOP LEAGUE

The WHL is one of the top development leagues in the world.

Oilers forward Jarret Stoll was a star with the Kootenay Ice during his junior days. He also knows what it's like to play major junior hockey in Edmonton. Stoll played with the Edmonton Ice before the team relocated to Cranbrook, B.C.

"It was unfortunate what happened with the Edmonton Ice when they were here," Stoll said. "But I think this would be a great junior city. It's a city that loves its hockey and their passion for the game. Junior hockey is exciting hockey. It's young kids trying to make the jump, trying to sign contracts, trying to get drafted."

Stoll is one of two Oilers who played in the WHL. Ryan Smyth was a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors from 1992-1995.

"I think it would do all right here," Smyth said. "I was fortunate to play in the WHL for three years and it was a great three years for me in Moose Jaw. I think having Edmonton would be a feather in the cap for the league and they would do well."

Along with granting Edmonton a franchise yesterday, the WHL board of governors agreed to a new league alignment and to the sale of the Portland Winter Hawks.

INEVITABLE

"I think it was inevitable that the league would be going back to Edmonton," said Lethbridge Hurricanes general manager Roy Stasiuk. "I think it's a good thing as long as the playing field remains even and the smaller-market franchises don't get hurt.

"As far as travel, it would probably make it easier than it is now. You could have a nice weekend trip up through Calgary, Red Deer and now to Edmonton."

Teams in Vancouver and Calgary have already shown the WHL can co-exist in NHL markets.

"It works real well in Calgary," said Calgary Flames rookie Dion Phaneuf, a former Red Deer Rebel. "And to have another rivalry with Red Deer in the middle would be a great addition."


Videos

Photos