Nanaimo has a reputation as a hockey town and now citizens could help determine what brand of hockey is played in the city.
The future of the Nanaimo Clippers junior A hockey club is contingent on the outcome of an upcoming referendum on a sports and events centre on the waterfront.
At the B.C. Hockey League’s governors’ meeting last week, the Clippers filled in other teams about their situation.
“We just made the league aware that there’s potential for a new event centre and that the rumour is that if the event centre comes in, that a WHL team will closely follow, if not immediately,” said David LeNeveu, Clippers president. “Now, we’re not party to any of those discussions, so we can’t say one way or the other. We’re just making the [BCHL] aware that this could be what was happening and to prepare, in case that did happen.”
He said the idea of major junior and junior A hockey trying to coexist in Nanaimo would be a detriment to the success of both clubs.
“Could we do it? Yeah. Will we do it? I don’t know. We’ve got to keep every option available on the table, but it’s definitely not the most likely case scenario,” LeNeveu said.
Another possibility is moving the team. BCHL commissioner John Grisdale said Campbell River is a location that would have to be considered.
“There has to be an agreement both ways for the ownership in Nanaimo to relocate there and the league to approve it … and we can’t do anything there that’s not fair to the junior B group,” Grisdale said.
He said the BCHL’s franchise committee has not had any discussions about relocating the Clippers and said there’s nothing the league can do on that front until Nanaimo’s referendum.
A third option for the Clippers would be for the club to ‘go dark,’ which means that the Clippers would continue to exist as a BCHL club, but with non-playing status.
Nothing has been confirmed yet as far as a major junior hockey team being relocated to the Harbour City, though the Nanaimo Event Centre Phase 1 report noted that it was conducted with the understanding “that there may be an opportunity to attract a Western Hockey League team to Nanaimo and that these opportunities do not happen often.”
The Kootenay Ice, based in Cranbrook, is the team that could be on the move.
“The WHL is leading those negotiations. That’s their function,” said Kim Fowler, the city’s chief sustainability officer, earlier this month, adding that the City of Nanaimo was in the process of negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the WHL.
Fowler suggested Nanaimo could accommodate major junior hockey in the period before a multiplex is constructed.
“Of course we can’t build an event centre in a few months … it’s going to take a couple years to build a facility,” she said. “So in the interim, Frank Crane Arena, of course, is the biggest one we have, so there needs to be an investigation done of that arena to find out what is required for interim conditions.”
Initial analysis, she said, indicates that there’s “nothing significant, nothing that would prevent” the arena from being temporarily used for major junior.
In the meantime, Frank Crane Arena is hosting Nanaimo Clippers hockey and a “very exciting playoff race…” said LeNeveu. “We just want to reiterate to our fans and our corporate sponsors and everybody else out there that we continue to hope for your support going forward.”
Aside from that, the hockey team will await the outcome of a potentially game-changing referendum on March 11.
“We’ll know our fate, basically, after that date and we’ll expect things to happen very quickly from that date forward,” LeNeveu said.