The BCHL’s return to Chilliwack is good news for the Lower Mainland, regular news for the Trail Smoke Eaters and potentially bad news for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
The league announced this week that the Quesnel Millionaire’ franchise will be relocated to Chilliwack for the 2011-12 season.
In an email vote, the decision was unanimous to relocate the troubled franchise to a former BCHL location.
“Chilliwack is a great addition,” said Smokies president Tom Gawryletz.
“I have a lot of respect for the people in Quesnel. They tried very hard.”
However, substantial financial losses over the pat couple of years and a new arena proposal rejected by the City of Quesnel, put the writing on the wall for the northern franchise.
The other question from the fallout of the Millionaires’ move is the future of the Prince George franchise.
“That’s going to be the big question,” agreed Gawryletz, who will be at this weekend’s BCHL annual general meeting in Richmond.
While the Prince George executive is prepared for the solitary life on the schedule, owners from other regions of B.C. may not view a long trip to Prince George to face one team as a worthwhile expedition and expense.
For the upcoming season, Chilliwack will take Quesnel’s place in the Interior Conference but realignment will be explored for the 2012-13 campaign.
“That was one of our debating points, and we certainly didn’t prefer the Interior conference option,” said Glen Ringdal, who led the negotiations on the Chilliwack side, told the Chilliwack Progress newspaper.
“We want the rivalries with Langley and Surrey and Coquitlam, but it was very important for the BCHL that we do this for one year, and that’s a concession that we made. I like good, tough negotiations. You want to come to a point where the deal works for both sides, and the answer here is that yes, we did that.”
The relocated team will take the name Chiefs, reclaiming the moniker used by the junior A squad that played in Chilliwack from 1990 to 2006, said the Chilliwack Progress.
The name was made available when the Langley team changed its name to the Rivermen in late April, it added.
Gawryletz said traveling to Chilliwack instead of Quesnel wouldn’t make “a whole lot of difference.”
However, it might create one extra trip to the Lower Mainland during the season.
The BCHL is handling the creation of the regular-season schedule this year.
Meanwhile, the upcoming AGM will feature plenty of new faces with new ownership groups in Nanaimo, Cowichan Valley and, now, Chilliwack, although many of the movers on that team are familiar to the league.
The ownership group bringing the BCHL back to Chilliwack is effectively the same one that just sold a BCHL team in Langley, minus Heinz Hasselmen. Moray Keith, Jim Bond are the majority owners, joined by Harvey Smyl.
The arrival of the BCHL helps fill the void in Chilliwack after the Western Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins moved to Victoria.
Although the WHL’s Prince George Cougars were rumoured to be possible suitors for the Chilliwack vacancy, the BCHL received a 10-year commitment for the new ownership group.
“It wasn’t all that important to us, but it was to the league,” Ringdal said in the Progress. “We were in the league and left the league and now we’re back in the league and are we going to leave the league again? It was a very legitimate question.”
Another part of the agreement was the payment of a very steep relocation fee of $250,000, the newspaper reported.
“I was very unhappy about that because there’s never been a relocation fee paid before,” Ringdal said candidly.
“But it is what it is, and I said to the boys when this was coming through that we’re going to have a nice success on our hands and we’ll look back on this and not regret it.”
While the sour taste of the Bruins’ hasty exit might still linger in the mouths of fans and Chilliwack businesses, Ringdal is confident the support will be there for the BCHL franchise.
“Sometimes you have let them sit back and see if you’re genuine and if you’re doing what they’d hoped. We know we’re going to, so I don’t have any lack of confidence that those people will eventually come back, even if it’s not right away.”