After losing its Western Hockey League team to Winnipeg in January, the city of Cranbrook, B.C., will once again have a junior hockey team starting in the 2020/21 season.
The B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) unveiled the new Cranbrook Bucks at the Western Financial Place arena in the East Kootenay city on Tuesday.
The Bucks will become the 18th team in the BCHL, which is made up of players aged 16-20.
Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt says local hockey fans are thrilled, especially after widespread disappointment at the WHL's decision to move the Kootenay ICE to Manitoba.
WHL commissioner Rob Robison said in a statement in January that the franchise was no longer viable in the Kootenay market and that the team left for the 2019/20 season because of low attendance in the stands.
"It was a sad day for Cranbrook and the hockey fans. As much as they talked about poor support, that wasn't entirely the whole picture," Pratt told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West.
Pratt says the ICE was on a losing streak, having only won 12 games in its last season in Cranbrook. He blames the owners for the team's performance and says it's not fair to blame its departure on fans.
Pratt says Cranbrook has at least 18,000 die-hard hockey fans and, while they're disappointed not to have a hockey team this season, they will be plenty amped up for 2020/21.
"They are excited about the BCHL coming to town. It is an exciting brand of hockey," Pratt said.
He says the BCHL is not a step down from the larger WHL.
"What we were hearing over the last few years with the WHL was that's it's becoming very systemic, much like the NHL. It's a development league for the NHL. The games are almost robotic. It wasn't exciting hockey to watch," Pratt said.
The BCHL has also voiced its confidence that Cranbrook hockey lovers can fill seats.
"Having driven around Cranbrook and the area in the last couple days, I think this is a community that is going to do the B.C. Hockey League proud," said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb at a press event Tuesday morning.