As Chilliwack’s hockey drama continues to play out in excruciating slow motion, local fans seem to have resigned themselves to the notion that the Western Hockey League Bruins are leaving town.
And while there’s still reason to think another WHL team (Prince George?) might be skating into town to replace them, more and more signs are pointing towards a return of the BCHL.
If Moray Keith fails in his bid to bring major junior hockey back to the Wack, the junior A circuit has a couple teams ripe for relocation.
The Williams Lake Timberwolves slipped into dormant status this season after a posting a dismal 10-49-1-0 record in 2009-10. And now, the Quesnel Observer is reporting that the Millionaires are on the block.
“The Millionaires are for sale,” team president Bob Sales confirmed on Wednesday.
Sales made the comment in front of more than 80 Quesnel residents packed into city council chambers to hear the latest information regarding the Multi-Centre project.
“This has made me sick,” Sales said after the meeting. “We’re [owners] really bothered by this. We got involved because we wanted to keep the team here.”
Despite their best intentions and best efforts, the Millionaires owners have lost money for two years in a row. Not helping matters was the economic downturn and the loss of the Timberwolves.
The amount of money lost is not trivial.
“This isn’t a little bit of money we’re talking about, this is a huge amount of money,” he said.
Sales was quick to tip his hat to local businesses and volunteers who have gone of their way to support the Millionaires.
“They’ve really done everything they can to support us,” Sales said.
The real problem, Sales said, was that there were too many empty seats on too many nights, despite “heavy marketing” based on the previous year’s playoff run.
“We just can’t get anybody to walk into the building,” Sales said. “That’s our biggest problem.
“One night, after paying security and the referees, we made a $37 deposit,” Sales said to highlight the importance of game day ticket sales.
The playoffs, usually the icing on the cake for a sports franchise, were also a disappointment this year, with less than 400 people in the stands.
Following two money-losing seasons, the Mills investors have decided they can no longer continue to add money to the pot and hence the decision to put the team up for sale.
Although the Millionaires are for sale, they have not left town yet and the ownership group is still hopeful they will find a “made in Quesnel” solution.
But it isn’t an easy sell, Sales admitted.
Potential owners, interested in keeping the team in Quesnel, have already remarked the state of the Vault (Quesnel and District Twin Arenas) and the less than enthusiastic fan support are drawbacks, Sales said.
“We have no firm offers,” he said.
The directors of the team are meeting Wednesday night to go over potential options and will then present the best options to the team’s investors.
“They’ll vote on it and we’ll go from there,” Sales said.
Meanwhile, news out of Langley this week provides another indication of where things might be going.
Roy and John Henderson are set to take over the BCHL’s Langley Chiefs after buying them from Keith, Jim Bond and Harvey Smyl.
Roy Henderson is the long-time operator of Global Sports Scouting Services Inc., which runs hockey clinics for peewee, bantam, midget and junior hockey players to showcase their talents for prospective coaches and scouts.
John Henderson is an accountant.
Roy Henderson delivered an interesting quote to Langley Times sports editor Gary Ahuja last week, saying the team would be changing its name.
“The Chiefs are synonymous with Chilliwack. The Chiefs belong in Chilliwack,” he said. “To be honest, the Langley fans detested the Chiefs for many years. I remember (when my son played for Chilliwack) I used to have to go into that building and listen to it.”
If Keith is forced to go the junior A route, the stepping stones are laid out in front of him.
Available name that resonates deeply in this market?
While the WHL scenario remains alive, a lot of BCHL puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place.
With files from Percy Hebert, Quesnel Observer