WHL puts chill on move to Chilliwack
The Spokane Chiefs got their wish on Thursday, as the Western Hockey League denied the application of the owners of the archrival Tri-City Americans to move the team to Chilliwack, British Columbia.
Spokane general manager Tim Speltz was buoyed by the news but was far from gloating.
The Chiefs went on record as opposing the move though some observers thought the Tri-City franchise would get the necessary two-thirds (14 out of 20) vote of approval. For his part, Speltz wasn’t quite as sure, but he’s glad how things turned out.
“I think we are relieved,” said Speltz from Canada. “It’s tough for us to look at this objectively, because we have what we do believe is a good market in the Tri-Cities and is viable. We’re trying not to be self-serving, but we see it in the attendance when we’re there. And I’ve received quite a response from the Tri-City fans and business community with this … I wouldn’t call it a threat … but the reality of losing their team.”
The details of the discussions and the final vote count by the league’s board of governors in Calgary, Alberta, are confidential, but Speltz saw the vote as a continued commitment by the league to the Tri-Cities. The franchise has been based there since the 1988-89 season.
“Nobody respects more than us what has to be done when things don’t go as well as you’d like to expect,” said Speltz. “We know what it takes and believe Tri-City can get back to that status. When we (with Bobby Brett as owner) got involved with the league in 1990, the comparison was, ‘You can build Spokane into what Tri-City is.’
“We understand it’s a cyclical business and this is a step in the right direction. The WHL board of governors showed the Tri-City franchise and market that we are committed to it. Now they (the owners and the community) have to form a partnership and get it done.”
The team and the city of Kennewick have tentatively agreed to a lease extension for the Three Rivers Coliseum, but the Americans seek long-term improvements to the facility.
“It’s going to take time and a lot of work,” said Speltz, who added that the Americans owners were professional in their pitch to their colleagues. “They knew the Tri-City franchise has been there for 17 years and knew going in where they were. I don’t think they were shocked, though I think they might have been disappointed.”
The Americans are owned by a group that includes a pair of men with National Hockey League ties, ex-Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke and New York Rangers GM Glen Sather, along with Vancouver businessman Darryl Porter.
If efforts fail to keep the current ownership group motivated to make things work in the Tri-Cities, one report said a group of Tri-Cities community investors may be willing to buy the team. That group reportedly includes former Americans goalie Olaf Kolzig, who served as a goaltending consultant with the team this season and lives in the Tri-Cities.