Rush not worried about WHL

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

Duane Vienneau wouldn't go out on a limb for a "Guaranteed Win Night" this season but the Edmonton Rush president is making a bold prediction for next year.

"Guaranteed we will make the playoffs and the year after that we'll be a contender for the Champion's Cup," said Vienneau.

But when Year 3 for the Rush begins, there will be another team clamouring for attention and sports fans' money. The Western Hockey League returns to Edmonton in 2007-08 and the sure-to-be-named Oil Kings will have an immediate impact on the scene, although Vienneau is confident the Rush will hold onto their spot in the pecking order.

"I have no worries whatsoever. This team is not concerned with the WHL," said Vienneau. "I don't consider them competition. We may potentially compete for the people interested in the same ticket price but the sport and the product are different.

AN EXPANSION TEAM

"There's no question the WHL needs to be in Edmonton. But they do have a history of coming and going here and they're going to be an expansion team just like we are now."

The 2007-08 edition of Edmonton's WHL team is likely to struggle. Whether those growing pains are to the same extent as the currently 1-11 Rush or the dismal Edmonton Ice who won only 31 of 144 games in two seasons of existence, only time will tell.

The Rush do have the final two home games of this season - including tomorrow's test against the Colorado Mammoth - and all of the 2007 schedule to impress Edmonton before a new hockey club comes to town.

"We want to keep the fans we have," said Rush forward Randy Daly. "We have a pretty good base so far even though the first year hasn't gone the way we wanted. We still have to be competitive the rest of this year and get better next year so we can prove to everyone that this is a good product."

The Rush have to do something right pretty soon. Hockey will always be king around here and the arrival of the princes from the junior ranks is bound to steal some thunder from the Rush down the road.

"When we first came to Edmonton, the Road Runners were here and we were all anticipating that the Oilers would be back so our business plan always factored in lacrosse and two hockey teams," said Vienneau.

"Calgary has the Flames, the Hitmen and the Roughnecks and it is a very similar sports town to Edmonton."

WORK WITH NORTHLANDS

There could be a significant logjam, perhaps even a battle, over the availability of Rexall Place. The Oilers have first priority when it comes to dates, but the Rush have been told by Northlands that neither they nor the impending WHL club will get second or third billing.

Instead, Vienneau said, the Rush and the Oiler-owned junior team will have to work with Northlands on arranging their schedules.

"We are used to working with multiple clients and we will make sure that we accommodate all their needs," said Northlands assistant GM Trish Macdonald. "We will do everything we have to so we can make it work."

There's likely to be some serious juggling of the calendar. All three teams will be searching for open Friday and Saturday nights and after those run out, the stage will be set to see who gets shifted around to Thursdays, Sunday nights and weekend afternoons.

"We're not going to be dictated to," added Vienneau. "There is potential for Sunday afternoons for us but only if it makes sense to us. I have holds on my dates already for next year, but I can't finalize them until I see the NHL schedule. We've been told that there is going to be more than enough room for three teams."


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