Winnipeg ready for the WHL?
Wheat Kings owner thinks it could happen
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
|The Brandon Wheat Kings and Calgary Hitmen will renew hostilities at MTS Centre next week. Wheat Kings owner Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t think it will be long before the WHL returns to Winnipeg full time. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency file photo)
WINNIPEG - Now that the NHL is back in Winnipeg, Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t see a reason why the WHL shouldn’t return as well.
In fact, the Brandon Wheat Kings owner and general manager wouldn’t be surprised one bit if it happens.
“It’s interesting, because as long as it was the (AHL), I never felt the Western league was an option here because the price points are too similar,” McCrimmon said Monday at MTS Centre. “You weren’t looking at different enough markets. With the NHL now, I’m not sure what True North’s appetite or anyone else’s appetite might be, but at some point I can sure see it happening now.”
True North spokesman Scott Brown said Monday he’s not sure about down the road, but right now the Jets ownership group is not interested in owning a WHL team. That’s not unexpected considering their heads are still spinning from getting an NHL franchise up and running in three and a half months last summer.
There is WHL history in the Manitoba capital. The Winnipeg Jets joined the league with the Wheat Kings in 1967, one year after the league got up and running. That franchise spent a decade in the league, playing under three nicknames, before leaving for Calgary in 1977. The Winnipeg Warriors joined the loop in 1980 and lasted four years before moving to Moose Jaw, Sask.
The three other NHL cities in Western Canada also have WHL teams. The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers own the Hitmen and Oil Kings, respectively, and they both play in the same building. The Vancouver Giants aren’t owned by the Canucks, and they play in a different arena.
“We’ve had real good success in our league with the model of the NHL team and the WHL team,” McCrimmon said.
If there’s one potential problem with a WHL team playing at MTS Centre, it’s the fact the building is one of the busiest in North America. In addition to Jets games, concerts, monster truck shows and bull riding, as examples, dot the facility’s calendar. WHL teams play 36 regular-season home games, so it might be a tight squeeze.
McCrimmon would love it if it could happen, though.
“From a Brandon standpoint, it would provide us with a natural rival. We don’t have a natural rival,” McCrimmon said. “Everything in Brandon is about day of the week. So we can play Friday or Saturday. It doesn’t matter who we play necessarily because we don’t have any rival that is better or worse than any other. So that would be positive.”
And even though Winnipeg would be the league’s eastern outpost, he doesn’t believe the league’s other 21 franchises would complain about having to travel two more hours down the Trans-Canada Highway.
“I don’t think that would be the case at all,” McCrimmon said. “Winnipeg would be a great market for our league. I really believe that. Is there a challenge with geography? Yes, there is. Obviously teams coming into Manitoba would be looking to play both teams, but I don’t think that there would be resistance. I can sure see at some point in time there being an appetite for the league to get to Winnipeg.”
If there was ever talk of Manitoba getting another team, it’s this year, as five of the top nine scorers in the WHL this season hailed from the Keystone Province. Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin and Brandon’s Mark Stone, who both hail from Winnipeg, were 1-2 in league scoring.
WINNIPEG AND THE WHL
— 1967: Winnipeg Jets and Brandon Wheat Kings join the league
— 1973: The Jets become the Winnipeg Clubs
— 1976: The Clubs become the Winnipeg Monarchs
— 1977: The Monarchs move to Calgary and become the Wranglers and today are the Lethbridge Hurricanes
— 1980: The Winnipeg Warriors are granted a franchise
— 1984: The Warriors move to Moose Jaw, where they remain today