The Western Hockey League is returning to Victoria after a 17-year absence.
The league confirmed Wednesday the city’s worst-kept secret: the Chilliwack Bruins will locate here for the 2011-2012 season.
The Bruins were sold this year to RG Properties, the company that operates the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.
“This arena originally was built for a WHL team – we had that in mind all along,” said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.
The WHL is a major junior league for 15- to 20-year-olds with 22 teams in Western Canada and the U.S.
The new team doesn’t have a name yet, although five options were mentioned, including the Capitals and the Royals. The name will be chosen by a vote.
“It’s exciting for the town,” said ex-WHLer Bruce Courtnall. “I’ve always thought it was a shame we lost the (Victoria Cougars) when we did (in 1994).”
It will take dedication from fans to make this WHL team a success in Victoria, said Dave Dakers, president of RG Properties’ sports and entertainment division.
“When it gets to this level, (fans) drive home the importance of what the kids (players) are doing,” he said. “It focuses them on the task at hand and whether it’s financially or on the ice, it is solely responsible for the success of the franchise.”
Dakers said studies on the WHL’s economic impact in other cities show returns between $15 million and $30 million annually, in spinoffs and direct spending.
“Just like they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city to raise a WHL team,” Dakers said.
Fortin added the local business community needs to step up to make the team successful as well.
That’s because when the Cougars skipped town in 1994 and moved to Prince George, lack of corporate sponsorship was a major factor.
“At the time a lot of businesses’ headquarters were located in Vancouver,” said Brandi Brodsky, vice-president of the Prince George Cougars. “It was really hard to get sponsorship dollars at the time.”
Things aren’t the same now, Fortin said.
“We’re growing up as a city. We’re a different city than we were 17 years ago when the Cougars left. We are a capital city that has moved and advanced forward and I think we’re more sophisticated. We’re ready for the product.”
RG Properties wouldn’t confirm what would be the fate of the Salmon Kings – Victoria’s pro team in the ECHL and current tenants of Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena – after their playoff run for the Kelly Cup ends this season, saying that information would be released after the playoffs.
Victoria’s WHL team will take to the ice this fall. Season tickets are on sale at www.whl.ca.