Winnipeg on WHL radar

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:01 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Winnipeg is very much on the WHL’s radar, but commissioner Ron Robison says nothing is imminent.

Brandon Wheat Kings owner Kelly McCrimmon told the Sun on Monday he would be all for a WHL team in Winnipeg, and he believes it will happen one day. Robison is warm to the idea, but he believes the 22-team WHL is fine the way it is right now.

“Our first position would be that we are committed to our current markets,” Robison said. “Although we face some challenges in certain markets, we want to continue to make sure that our franchises are doing everything they can to remain in their current locations.

“Having said that, if there was to be relocation certainly from an Eastern Conference standpoint, our first priority would be Winnipeg. We really feel that we can be successful in an NHL market now, in a similar way we’ve done so in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton successfully.”

The Calgary Flames oversee the Hitmen, and the same group that owns the Edmonton Oilers controls the Oil Kings. The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, don’t own the Giants, and they play in separate buildings. Despite having NHL hockey in their cities, the Hitmen, Giants and Oil Kings were first, second and fourth, respectively, in WHL attendance this season.

Robison, who said there’s been “strong interest expressed from various parties” in Winnipeg about a WHL franchise, said a team “would be very successful” if a team were to relocate there.

“Winnipeg’s a great hockey market,” he said. “We value the province of Manitoba as a producer of talent of the Western Hockey League, and clearly we’re under represented by just having one franchise in that province.”

Five of the league’s top nine point getters this season, including No. 1 Brendan Shinnimin and No. 2 Mark Stone, hail from Manitoba. The top player on the best team is Oil Kings forward Michael St. Croix, a Winnipeg native.

McCrimmon didn’t think the WHL would have worked in Winnipeg when it had the Manitoba Moose, because AHL and WHL ticket prices would have been too similar. Since the average Jets ticket is $82 and there’s a new hockey hunger in the city, McCrimmon believes now the WHL would work. True North said Monday it is not interested in a junior franchise.

The Wheat Kings will play the home games of their first-round playoff series against Calgary at MTS Centre next week. Games 3, 4, and 5, if necessary, will be played Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.


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