Could the WHL’s ICE coexist with the BCHL’s Chiefs in the same building?

In recent weeks there have been rumblings and rumours that the Winnipeg ICE of the Western Hockey League might relocate back to British Columbia. These rumours started after an article in the Winnipeg Sun stated that Chilliwack or Wenatchee could be a landing spot for the ICE starting next season.

With the amount of junior A teams in the same market as WHL teams, I wanted to look to see if it is possible for a WHL team to coexist in the same arena as a BCHL club.

Scheduling challenges

The BCHL and WHL have similar schedules in the aspect that they start and finish their regular seasons around the same time, from mid-September to the end of March.

The WHL has more weekday games than the BCHL, given that the schedule is 14 games longer than its junior A counterpart. The BCHL has gone almost away from weekday games but does have the occasional one here and there.

The BCHL has much less travel than the WHL, with Coastal and Interior teams making short trips to the other conference usually over a weekend once before Christmas, and once after Christmas. The WHL’s BC Division teams have week-long trips out to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as well as weekend trips to the United States to play the Washington and Oregon-based teams.

I recently compared the Langley Rivermen and Vancouver Giants schedules to see how many games occurred on the same night. Even though the two teams play in separate buildings in the Township of Langley, only six games over the course of the season overlapped on the same date. Given that the Giants attract – and can accommodate – a bigger crowd, only six games overlapping is pretty good for them not playing in the same building.

Arena repercussions

The home venue is where things get a bit more tricky. The Chilliwack Coliseum has an abundance of locker rooms, however, only one has all the facilities for one tenant. The two teams could share some of the same rooms but there would have to be a renovation to one of the other rooms on the home end of the rink to facilitate a second tenant.

With two ice surfaces at the Coliseum, the Chiefs and a WHL club could alternate practices on the main sheet and the second sheet or could make a trip out to the Sardis side of Chilliwack and use one of the three sheets at the Sardis Sports Complex. The Chiefs did a fantastic job juggling the two ice surfaces at the Chilliwack Coliseum for the RBC Cup in 2018, but that was a temporary situation for a week.

The Chiefs have their team office in the Coliseum that connects to the arena. If the ICE does move to Chilliwack, they would have to find an off-site office for the team or take over the ticket office on the concourse until a solution is found.

The ice sheet would have to incorporate sponsors for both the Chiefs and the ICE. The middle logo could be done like Mullet Arena in Tempe with both the Chiefs logo and ICE logo on either side of the red line.

Billets and community work

Having three junior hockey teams in one city is a tough task, especially with finding billets for all three teams. The Chiefs and Jets of the Pacific Junior Hockey League take up a lot of the available billets that could be there for the ICE.

With the ever-growing community of Chilliwack and several new housing developments being built, this could be good for more families to open their homes up to the aspiring hockey players of the WHL, as well as keep the same amount the Chiefs and Jets currently occupy.

The community work could be a joint venture with both teams doing the community work and events around the city. There’s an abundance of things the Chiefs do in the Fraser Valley area and they can’t keep up with everything — this is where the ICE could pick up the slack. The two teams could potentially be involved in some joint ventures and work together.

Having three junior hockey teams in Chilliwack could present community groups in the region with a number of opportunities to benefit from their involvement.

A WHL team returning to Chilliwack could be a good thing or a bad thing. The good thing is that two teams in junior hockey could potentially coexist in the same building with some creative scheduling. Maybe two high-level junior teams using the building is an incentive for them to make the renovations the Coliseum really needs.

Truthfully, scheduling and the play on the ice shouldn’t be an issue. WHL teams share space with National Hockey League clubs in Edmonton and Calgary, so it can be done without too many overlaps. Billets will come if asked and there’s lots of room for players to do stuff around the community.

The bad side includes the logistics regarding separate locker rooms, offices, and building priorities. That, on top of the sour taste that so many fans in Chilliwack have based on how the WHL left the community in 2011, and the potential split of sponsorship dollars.

There would have to be a lot of goodwill rebuilt in the community by a WHL club and proof that the Chiefs wouldn’t take a massive financial hit in attendance and sponsorship dollars.