The Tri-City Americans franchise made it official on Thursday, filing an application with the Western Hockey League to relocate the team to Chilliwack, British Columbia.
A meeting of the Board of Governors has been scheduled for Thursday in Calgary, Alberta, where 14 of the 20 WHL teams would have to approve the move to the city that is roughly an hour east of Vancouver.
It’s unclear whether there are enough votes to support the move, but Spokane Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz made it clear on Thursday that Spokane is not amenable to it.
“There’s no way we could support it,” said Speltz. “We think it would be detrimental to the U.S. Division and, overall, we view the Tri-City market as being a good market.”
If the move is approved, the Chiefs could be affected in a couple of ways.
First, Spokane would lose its closest neighbor and top rival. The Chiefs and Americans consistently draw large crowds for the teams’ games at the Arena. Second, the move would likely lead to some sort of realignment of the divisions and increased travel costs for Spokane.
Speltz didn’t want to comment on any proposals that would flow from the move being approved, but the Kelowna (B.C.) Daily Courier reports that league sources have discussed several possible scenarios.
One of the approaches would have the Kootenay Ice, based in Cranbrook, B.C., becoming Spokane’s main rival. Spokane and Kootenay opened and closed this season with home-and-home matchups.
The WHL consists of four five-team divisions. Spokane is a member of the U.S. Division of the Western Conference, along with Tri-City, Seattle, Portland and Everett.
If Tri-City should relocate, however, the remaining division teams would be Interstate 5 rivals and more closely aligned with Chilliwack and Vancouver. Spokane would then play in a division with Kootenay, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George.
The Daily Courier reported that other possibilities include: playing an unbalanced schedule by making Vancouver play more U.S. teams; moving Vancouver out of the B.C. Division to the U.S.; or renaming both Western Conference divisions and basing them on geography.
How those realignment proposals are constructed might affect the outcome of the vote on the move. Kootenay has made it clear that it doesn’t want to change divisions and wants to preserve its rivalry with Kelowna.
The current rink in Chilliwack is undersized by WHL standards (3,500) and would need an expansion to 5,700 seats at a cost of $1.25 million (Canadian).
Tri-City, whose current ownership group is based in B.C., has negotiated a tentative lease extension with the City of Kennewick as an alternative plan. The Americans have been in Kennewick since relocating from New Westminster, B.C., in 1988. They have had multiple ownership changes since then and attendance has steadily dwindled.
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