St. John’s IceCaps president and CEO Danny Williams isn’t surprised the Winnipeg Jets have all but signed on the dotted line to move their American Hockey League franchise — currently the St. John’s IceCaps — to Thunder Bay, Ont.
Tuesday at Thunder Bay City Hall, a group headed by former NHL coach and broadcaster Gary Green announced it had Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment — owners of the Jets and IceCaps — on board as a partner in a proposed new $106.1 million event centre.
True North CEO Mark Chipman was not in Thunder Bay for the announcement, but issued the following statement: “True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club are excited about the prospect of operating our American Hockey League franchise in Thunder Bay. We are well aware of the community’s rich hockey tradition and are confident that Thunder Bay would be a great location to develop our future prospects.”
CLICK HERE for video of statement by Mark Chipman.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” Williams said of the announcement. “We knew the process was under way.
“I’m not shocked, I’m not pissed off, I’m not upset. I’m disappointed the Jets could leave the city, but by the same token, it’s not something we had no idea was coming.
“I’m not sitting up here bouncing off the walls saying ‘Oh geez, this is lovely, they backhanded us.’ We had full knowledge all the way through what the deal was: instead of three years, we got four and they couldn’t guarantee five. And we’ve been working on getting six for the last six months.
“But once we realized the renewal wasn’t coming easily, we started to look elsewhere, which is exactly what we’re doing.”
The IceCaps arrived on the scene in 2011-12 with Williams signing a three-year deal to lease the AHL club from the Jets. After Year 1, the contract was extended another year meaning the current deal expires following the 2014-15 season.
While the partnership between Green’s group and True North was announced in Thunder Bay, construction has yet to start on the building. And Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs cautioned Tuesday the provincial and federal governments must come through with a portion of the expected cost or the project is likely dead.
So Williams is hoping to keep the IceCaps in St. John’s past the 2014-15 season while the rink is constructed in northern Ontario, although there are unconfirmed reports the AHL franchise could play out of Winnipeg during the construction period.
“There’s no doubt, we’re fully prepared to honoured the next year and a half of this contract,” Williams said.
“But from my own perspective, I’m quite prepared to go out and buy a franchise, too. If a franchise is available, I’m prepared to buy it to keep professional sport here in the city.
“This has been so good for the city and province, I’d go out and try and buy a franchise. It’s a big step and a big undertaking, but I would actually do that.”
St. John’s IceCaps team to move to Ontario: report
A report out of Thunder Bay, Ont. today says a group in that city has reached an agreement with Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment to partner in the construction of a proposed $106.1 million events centre in Thunder Bay.
As part of the partnership, True North will move its American Hockey League team — currently the St. John's IceCaps — to Thunder Bay once the building is completed.