Is the Western Hockey League returning to Chilliwack?
That answer is no, according to the owners of the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs. The return of major junior hockey would have to come with the blessing of the Chiefs, who also own and operate the Chilliwack Coliseum. They re-affirmed their commitment to the BCHL and junior A hockey when asked about the rumours this week.
“We’re flattered being identified as a top junior hockey market in Canada,” said Chiefs vice president of business operations, Barry Douglas. “But Chiefs ownership is committed to the BCHL and is thrilled with the support the Chiefs receive in Chilliwack.”
The city was thrown into the mix last week when a Winnipeg Sun article mentioned Chilliwack as a potential landing spot for the Winnipeg Ice. The Ice are in trouble four years after relocating from Cranbrook. A proper WHL facility has never been built and the team currently plays at the cozy Wayne Fleming Arena at the University of Manitoba.
Sun writer Paul Friesen mentioned Chilliwack along with Wenatchee, WA and Estevan, SK., suggesting those cities have come up in behind-the-scenes conversations. All three are home to successful junior A franchises.
It is interesting to muse about, even if the idea is going nowhere.
Chilliwack, with its 5,000-plus seat arena (the Chilliwack Coliseum) might still make sense for the WHL, even if the league failed here once. When the Bruins called Chilliwack home from 2006 to 2011 the team served as a regional bridge between the Interior (Kamloops Blazers/Kelowna Rockets/Prince George Cougars, etc.) and the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. If the WHL hadn’t been laser focused on gaining a foothold on the Island with the Victoria Royals, the Bruins might still be here.
With community-minded ownership working hand-in-hand with a corporate base that is much larger than it was 12 years ago, there’s no reason it couldn’t work.
Interesting too that the Ice are led this season by a Chilliwack kid, 17-year-old Zach Benson. The teenager is viewed as a likely top 10 pick in June’s National Hockey League entry draft and currently ranks second in the league in points (81) behind Regina Pat Connor Bedard.
The Progress reached out to the Western Hockey League for comment but did not receive a reply.