North Delta’s Sungod Arena eyed for Junior A hockey franchise

Owner of national champs West Kelowna Warriors wants to move his team

The West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL celebrate their 2016 RBC Cup national Junior A championship last spring.

The West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL celebrate their 2016 RBC Cup national Junior A championship last spring.

The owner of the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL wants to move the Junior A hockey team to North Delta’s Sungod Arena.

The relocation bid, among other topics, will be discussed by the league’s board of governors at meetings today (Tuesday) and Wednesday.

“We’re in negotiations, no doubt, but that’s where we sit until I get something on paper,” Warriors owner Mark Cheyne told the Now.

“I’ll be honest and up front with you, the sooner the better, if it was going to happen for me, but it’s up in the air right now,” Cheyne added. “I’ll know more in the next two weeks probably.”

BCHL commissioner John Grisdale confirmed “there’s interest for a team to play in North Delta, either a relocation or an expansion team,” starting in the fall of 2017.

“Meetings are coming up but there may or may not be a decision on that,” Grisdale said on Monday. “The league will look where it’s at, where its existing franchises are, to see what’s best for the league. We have 17 franchises, and we have to consider what’s best for them.”

The league’s six-team Mainland division currently includes Surrey Eagles, Langley Rivermen and Coquitlam Express as the franchises closest to North Delta, geographically speaking.

Last season, the Warriors, who play in the Interior division, won the RBC Cup national championship among Junior A hockey teams. Despite the recent on-ice success, the team has struggled to attract crowds at Royal LePage Place, the rink in West Kelowna.

(Story continues below photo of Sungod Arena)

“It’s about a chance to break even there (in North Delta) because we just can’t break even here, you know,” Cheyne said. “It’s just a better move financially. With the (WHL) Rockets here and everything, it’s just a case of (people) don’t support it here as well as they need to, that’s for sure, even with a national championship, a really good team last year. I was told all along, for 10 years, that once we get over that hump, win the division, win something, things will change here drastically, but that’s just not the case.”

In November, Delta council supported a move to have Junior A hockey games played at Sungod, and a memorandum of understanding was drafted.

The club is looking to play, on average, one home game and several weekday practices per week, according to a report to council from Ken Kuntz, Delta’s director of parks, recreation and culture.

“The practices do not conflict with existing uses,” Kuntz wrote. “However, the home game schedule is planned for Saturday evenings, which is currently assigned to North Delta Minor Hockey Association. A key component of the MOU (memorandum of understanding) is that the association fully support a new club at Sungod. The association has agreed to relocate during the game times, subject to the provision of an equal amount of time at another facility” – probably Planet Ice, the four-sheet arena located under the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Stephen VanSpall, president of North Delta Minor Hockey Association, said he is “pretty excited” about the possibility of Junior A hockey coming to Sungod.

“Hockey of that calibre can only benefit the community of North Delta and also North Delta Minor Hockey Association,” he said. “It could help expand the interest of hockey in this area, in general, and result in more kids playing hockey. We’re definitely on board with the application.”

The MOU calls for an initial five-year deal for a Junior A team at Sungod, and includes use of an office, dressing room, ticket booth, limited advertising sales and first right of refusal to operate the arena concession.

Grisdale said the BCHL board of governors will decide whether having a team in North Delta “is the right thing for our league.

“It’s a rink that’s kind of lost in time,” Grisdale said. “I haven’t been in there in some time but it’s been well-maintained but not with a lot of updates. There’s a lot of great hockey history there, too, and the BCHL was there once in the ’70s for a season or two.

“We have support from the city and the community, no question, so we’ll see where this goes.”

The Junior-B North Delta Devils played at Sungod until the end of the 2014 season, when they moved to Langley and became the Knights. Last fall, the PJHL franchise moved to Surrey and currently plays games at North Surrey rec centre.

tom.zillich@thenownewspaper.com