It’s been almost 20 years, but the wait is over for hockey fans on Vancouver Island. The WHL will return to the City of Victoria next season, the Western Hockey League and RG Properties Ltd. announced today.
The WHL Board of Governors has approved the sale of the WHL franchise in Chilliwack and its relocation to Victoria effective starting with the 2011-12 season. Graham Lee, whose company RG Properties developed, built and operates the 7,000-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, has purchased the franchise and will move the WHL franchise to the B.C. capital for the start of next season.
“We are very excited to bring WHL hockey back to Victoria,” said Lee. “From the day we first got involved with this building over a decade ago, our goal has been to look at all opportunities that will bring excitement and entertainment to the city as well as providing economic benefits. Bringing a WHL team to Victoria exemplifies that commitment.”
“We are very pleased to be in a position to announce the WHL will be returning to the City of Victoria and Vancouver Island next season,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “Although any relocation is a difficult process, we know the Victoria market will be a great addition to the WHL.”
“The WHL is a part of Canadian hockey culture. The league is all about community, and our focus with the team is all about being a strong partner in the community,” said Dave Dakers, President of RG Sports and Entertainment. “Vancouver Island’s top young players will now have the chance to play at the highest level right here at home in front of a hometown crowd.”
“It is exciting to have a WHL team back in the Capital City. It is an opportunity to be part of building the future of hockey,” said Mayor of Victoria, Dean Fortin. “Our new team will greatly add to the diverse and family-friendly entertainment that makes our city great.”
The WHL is the premier junior hockey development league in the country and had more players drafted in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft than any other League in the world, with 43 players selected in all and seven selected in the first round.
The B.C. capital was home to a WHL franchise for 23 seasons from 1971 to 1994. During that period, Victoria’s WHL teams produced over 50 NHL players including well-known stars such as Geoff and Russ Courtnall, Grant Fuhr, Mel Bridgeman and Greg Adams, just to name a few. The WHL Victoria Cougars franchise was relocated to Prince George in 1994.
“It's going to be great to see local kids in WHL uniforms on the Island! I think we'll see bigger crowds, there is more of a local appetite for this brand of hockey. That should also give a boost to local businesses to get behind the team,” said John Tinker, President and Owner of Big Stake Ventures and Victoria Keg Steakhouses.