Ryan Graham, Observer Reporter
After Quesnel’s application for a Junior B franchise in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), in January was rejected many in the community thought their dreams of having a junior team had vanished, but all may not be lost.
Recently it was announced the West Kelowna Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) proposed move to Delta was rejected giving Quesnel and other cities who are looking for a franchise hope.
“I had some concerns about their ability on the business side of the operation,” owner of the Warriors Mark Cheyne said in an interview with Castanet News Kelowna.
He added there were no issues on the hockey side or financially but believes with more time the group in Delta will get their operation in order and will come back. Cheyne will continue to work with prospective groups that would keep the franchise in West Kelowna but says other options include the possibility of moving the team to Quesnel. He is scheduled to announce Friday at the Warriors playoff game if the team will be relocated or sold.
Tuesday, supporters of the team rallied outside the Royal LePage Place voicing their concerns.
“We know it’s not going to North Delta but there are other players in the field,” organizer Larry McLean told the Daily Courier.
“Quesnel has a rink that’s ready to go. It could go there. We need corporate sponsorship by Friday. Mark’s going to make a decision. I believe by 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon we will know whether we have our team here in West Kelowna or not.”
Quesnel, which had their expansion application to join the KIJHL voted down, will be opening the West Fraser Centre in September and could be an attractive option. The new 1,600 seat arena will be a substantial upgrade from the old arena and will hopefully re-energize the city.
Acquiring a junior hockey franchise would be a big bonus for the community as it would bring back the memories of the great history of Quesnel, which is largely influenced by hockey. The last time the city had a junior team was in 2011 when the Millionaires called Quesnel home.
With the new arena set to open in September and the possibility of bringing a franchise to Quesnel, it would be a perfect match and would also bring a lot of energy and excitement to the city.
BCHL Commissioner John Grisdale says they would like to stay in West Kelowna.
“As far as West Kelowna is concerned the league is working with the West Kelowna ownership to stay there, but it’s separate to the opportunity to come back to Quesnel,” Grisdale said.
“There is a new rink coming to Quesnel and being a partner in the league before and seeing if there is interest for a Junior A team there again is the first step. Whether there are people privately or if the community itself is interested are certainly steps we would like to investigate.”
Although Quesnel is one option there are other cities that could be possible destinations. One of those include Cranbrook which could potentially lose its Western Hockey League franchise, the Kootenay Ice if a new arena is approved next month in Nanaimo.
Time will tell what city will be lucky enough to acquire the junior hockey franchise but Quesnel should definitely be high on the list, with a new arena on its way and a passionate fan base that is looking for hockey at the junior level to return.
– with files from the Daily Courier, Kelowna Capital News and Castanet News Kelowna