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Report: Jets moving AHL franchise to Thunder Bay

Jan 21, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT


Tough news for hockey fans in Newfoundland — according to, the Winnipeg Jets will be moving their AHL affiliate from St. John’s to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Not that this should come as a huge surprise to IceCaps fans (see: this article from October in The Telegram), but it still must be tough to take when you consider the team is up among the leaders in AHL attendance.

St. John’s loss, of course, is Thunder Bay’s gain. A new rink is to be built in the Northwestern Ontario city of just over 100,000, which is also the birthplace of the Staal brothers, Patrick Sharp, and other NHLers, past and present.

  1. imleftcoast - Jan 21, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    Are they Jets fans? The only person I’ve known from there lived in Vancouver and was a Bruins fans I suspect his intent was to be as disagreeable as possible (like Denverites).

    • Jason Brough - Jan 21, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Yeah, the Bruins have a huge fan base in the Maritimes.

    • kyegrace - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:01 PM

      Brough speaks the truth. You are either a Habs fan or a Bruins fan in the Maritimes.

      With the Bruins being very common.

      Closest NHL team (give or take) and an original 6.

      And they like to have things that are their own relative to the rest of Canada. Which is very fair. They are the often ‘forgotten’ provinces by the rest of us.

      Greatest people you will ever meet in this country. Which is a bar set high by all Canadians.

    • imleftcoast - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:09 PM

      I wondered about Thunder Bay, but I guess your point is that they are more apt to be Jets fans than in the Maritimes. Can’t argue with the Bobby Orr factor. I was a Habs and Bruins fan as a kid watching Guy Lafleur and Bobby Orr. Lasted until 1982.

      • mikebel11 - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        I’m from Thunder Bay, for the most part it’s a lot of Habs and Leafs fans. A lot of that is a result of Winnipeg not having a team for 16 years though. There are a lot of Jets fans and for a lot of people who aren’t jets fans the Jets are a sort of secondary favourite.

        Not to put a damper on the news but all this is hinging on an arena deal that’s been in limbo for about 15 years now in its various incarnations. Looks like its finally going to get done but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

  2. davebabychreturns - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    I’m sure travel distance is a huge factor; that’s a 75 minute flight from TB to Winnipeg.

    Nevermind if the Jets are visiting Denver and have to call a guy up from the other end of the continent.

    At any rate, True North obviously has a right to do what they want with their NHL team (and I’m sure Jets fans can sympathize with Canadian fans in a small market losing a team for reasons despite good fan support) but if the Icebreakers are a good business then I hope another AHL ownership group takes notice and puts a team back there.

  3. mikebel11 - Jan 21, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    Only about 45 minutes for that flight actually. So yes travel distance is the huge factor.

    • davebabychreturns - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      Yeah I’ve never actually flown it, I was going to google for that one. Maybe they gave me the flight time for the old Thunder Bay to Winnipeg with a stopover in Churchill. 😉

  4. pavelfitzgerald - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    As a lifelong Winnipegger & Jets fan I have a great deal of sympathy for the people of St. John’s. All the players that get called up here talk about how much fun it is in St. John’s & everyone in the Jets organization talks about how great St. John’s is both as a city & the people that make it.

    Is it fair? No, but TNSE does have the right to do what they want which is what they’re exercising & why they signed a short term deal. Something that hasn’t been mentioned is that Chipman & TNSE have a hand in the arena being built in Thunder Bay & an entertainment complex/district there as well. Obviously having a full time tenant would help make this a profitable endeavor for TNSE.

    Chipman is on record as saying he would help facilitate/vouch for another AHL team to go to St. John’s which I think is a testament to the people & city there. Having said that, it still sucks for them & I can relate having watched the Jets 1.0 leave this city.

    • imleftcoast - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:02 PM

      I have great memories of the Canucks and Jets games in the eighties with the picture of the Queen up on the one end of the rink. It was nice to see the team back there.

      I hate Denver for stealing the Nords, and the people I’ve met from there have some justification for why they deserved to enjoy that first Stanley Cup instead of Quebec City. That team was packed with talent when it became the Avalanche.

  5. haroldworsley - Jan 21, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    I live in Thunder Bay and am a fan of the AHL. There is no way a team of this calibre can survive on its own in this city without the taxpayers footing the bill. Cases in point — the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL and the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL.

    The population base in this city is not going to foot the $20 per game bill on a season ticket. There is also not the commercial base to support a team like this through the necessary sponsorship. Dave Andrews has been a great president of the AHL, but he has allowed for some really stupid relocations of some teams during his tenure. If this goes through, this will be his worst.

    The AHL needs to focus its energy on getting into cities where the game can be built for future NHL expansion or relocation (Quebec City, Saskatoon, Houston, Seattle, Portland Oregon, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Orlando to name a few), and not mud hut towns like Utica, Albany (nice rink no fan base), Syracuse (great fan base, rink is not NHL standard by being 15 ft too short), Springfield (great history, no fan base), Hamilton and Adirondack. It appears that the ECHL currently has a better growth strategy than the AHL does.

    If the AHL does come to Thunder Bay, I will buy a season ticket only because my property tax bill will be covering 90 percent of the ticket’s cost. This is a completely misguided decision.


    • atwatercrushesokoye - Jan 21, 2014 at 4:31 PM

      The big problem with Saskatoon is the WHL Blades, and the fact that both they and an AHL team would be competing for the same fan $ I don’t know that both could coexist. I’m sure the Flames or Oilers would both jump at the chance to move their AHL franchise there but since both own their city’s respective WHL teams they probably don’t want the optics of potentially putting another WHL team out of business. There’s always a rumour floating around about True North wanting to buy a WHL team for Winnipeg if that happens I’m sure the dream scenario would be for the Blades to be purchased and moved there and then the Flames or Oilers AHL team immediately moving to Saskatoon, opening up Abbotsford for Vancouver.

      • pavelfitzgerald - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        TNSE surveryed season ticket holders last year on whether or not they would support a WHL team & I know voted no. I have a friend who is a season ticket rep & he also confirmed that the majority said no. Does this mean they won’t get a team? No, but TNSE has appeared to be quite bright & I would imagine they would either shelve this idea or disregard it all together.

      • atwatercrushesokoye - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:36 PM

        All your points are very fair, and being a Jets season ticket holder you’d definitely know the pulse of the city and fan base better than I would, my info comes from a friend of mine who lives in your city and has mentioned the rumblings a few times.

        The only thing I would add to what you’ve said is that the WHL team and NHL team compete for completely different fans because of the price point of the product. Like in Winnipeg the Flames sell out every game but the tickets are fairly expensive. The Flames have done a great job of keeping the Hitmen tickets very affordable and they also have plenty of Sunday afternoon games, which leads to it being a pretty big draw for families as well as minor hockey teams. Frankly having gone to several Hitmen games I have to say the entertainment value is quite high.

        The Hitmen have averaged 7700 fans per game so far this year (although this is slightly misleading as the attendance grows later in the season and they usually finish with an average around 9000) and up north the Oil Kings are averaging just below 6000 per game. Given all of that and that these games usually happen on nights the building would be dark and the low overhead to run the teams (ie no player salaries just low weekly stipends), I’m not sure why the Jets wouldn’t consider a WHL team.

    • t9tookey - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:03 PM

      The reason AHL franchises move back to places like Utica and Albany is that, despite the IHL merger, this is still a primarily East Coast based league. More teams out West means more money in travel costs. The AHL is very mindful of travel costs (which is why Charlotte is in a division with teams out West, according to the AHL it’s cheaper to have Charlotte flying to Chicago and busing around than to have them busing to Norfolk, Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and the such). So that is probably why you won’t see Saskatoon, Seattle, Portland, or KC.

      No way you see Quebec. They had an AHL franchise from 99 to 01. Nothing short of an NHL team will do.

      Houston just lost their AHL franchise. From what I read the arena in Houston didn’t want the Aeros there anymore and pretty much kicked them out. The arena management wanted the open dates, felt they could generate more revenue than if the team was there. I think that’s another only and NHL team will do. Cincinnati also had a team not that long ago and didn’t do great. Orlando would be cool if they brought the Solar Bears back but the travel issue might be a problem.

      • atwatercrushesokoye - Jan 21, 2014 at 5:49 PM

        Those are all good points, would Saskatoon really be any more expensive than Abbotsford though? If I’m not mistaken when teams travel to Abbotsford they always play 2 games there (at least division and conference teams, not sure how the AHL schedule works) to somewhat minimize the travel costs, I would guess that the same would be worked out if Saskatoon were to be given a team.

        The west division is a mess with Abbotsford, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and then the two Texas teams, at least 3 teams can bus between themselves but no way any team is taking a bus to and from Charlotte and Abbotsford.

      • t9tookey - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:46 AM

        I don’t know that Abbotsford is going to be around much longer. Apparently they don’t have a good following. Guess Abbotsford is a Canucks town with the Flames farm club. I’ve seen rumors of possibly another AHL level league being formed out west so that the western NHL teams have closer farm clubs. I think when it comes down to it the money just isn’t there to keep expanding westerly for the AHL. If anything, the AHL could stand to move some teams into the Midwest, closer to Ok and Texas to help fill in the map and give more rivalries to those teams.

  6. kegmen7 - Jan 21, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Totally have to rename them the Bombers.

    • haroldworsley - Jan 22, 2014 at 12:00 AM

      That is such a lame comment. Canadian Senior League hockey is worse than the neighborhood beer league. For people who don’t know, “The Bombers” were the last senior league team from Thunder Bay to win the Allan Cup. There are probably those in the city who would like to see the name “Twins” or “Bearcats” or even “Thunder Hawks.”

      This original article is still a long way off from later media reports I have heard, and I really hope it doesn’t happen.

  7. nagidac - Jan 22, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    I can’t tell you what horrible news this has been for us hockey fans in St. John’s. The same thing happened with the St John’s Maple Leafs, and for the same reasons. It’s fine for Williams to say that he wants to bring a team back, but we still will be on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, so there’s always a good chance that whatever team we get will be moved closer to the NHL franchise. Between the Leafs and Ice Caps, we have a Q team, and that was a disaster.

    The one good thing is that Williams has retained the rights for the name and the logo, so should we land another AHL team, it will be once again named the St John’s Ice Caps and have the same logo (good for us that spend money on jerseys and other branded items).

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