'Peg ready for soccer

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

The owner of a Winnipeg franchise in the fledgling Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League believes this city is ready to embrace the sport.

Just in case it is not, however, he's all for the league's plan to proceed cautiously.

"We want to test the market and move rather slowly rather than jumping in and making a lot of mistakes," Bill Stewart said from Denver yesterday.

As a result, Stewart's yet-to-be-named team will host the Edmonton Drillers in a matinee match at MTS Centre on April 1.

Stewart is hoping to attract 5,000-7,000 fans for the test game. If all goes well, the league plans to play three games in each of its markets -- Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon -- next year and then put out a full schedule the year after that.

"There is a soccer movement afoot," said Stewart, a native of The Pas who went to school in Winnipeg and later played professional hockey in the Central, International and American Hockey Leagues.

"I believe soccer has grown in Winnipeg. I lived in Winnipeg, and I remember the senior teams having a strong following. I think the outdoor game that has not worked there in the past is not as sellable as the indoor game."

Stewart, who owns a small oil and gas company in Denver, has previous experience as a sports team owner. He owned the Richmond (Va.) Renegades of the East Coast Hockey League for four years and the Northern Colorado Eagles of the Central Hockey League for two. He currently owns a dormant CHL franchise and a percentage of the famed Milwaukee Mile racetrack in Wisconsin.

Perhaps his greatest claim to fame came when he was playing hockey at the University of Denver and was cast in a famous Canadian Tire commercial as Albert. Yes, that "Albert! Albert! Albert!"

Stewart said the Winnipeg team will feature 16 players and "about 12" of them will be from Manitoba. He said he has one Major League Soccer player who is interested in playing this year.

As the league evolves, it will do so with a firm salary cap in place, said CMISL president Mel Kowalchuk of Edmonton. Teams will feature eight or 10 "pros," and the rest will be collegiate or amateur players.

"Our showcase game is a way for us to analyze the league, the cities and scrutinize the ownership," said Kowalchuk, who was the first president of the Canadian Soccer League back in the '80s.

"I think once fans get to see the sport, they will get excited."

This year the Edmonton team will travel to Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Calgary, and Calgary will go to Edmonton once.

The first game is slated for March 10 at the Corral in Calgary.

Each match will consist of two games comprised of four 10-minute quarters. To add to the excitement, there will be a three-point arc. If each team wins one of the games, there will be a shootout to determine the winner of the match.

Stewart and Kowalchuk will be in Winnipeg next week to work out details and hold a formal launch.


Photos