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2014-01-21 at 15:28

Wolves confident they can co-exist with AHL franchise

By Leith Dunick,
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The Lakehead Thunderwolves won’t meet their demise if the city builds a proposed new event centre.

City officials on Tuesday announced the university and its hockey team will be part of a consortium headed by former NHL coach Gary Green.

Lakehead athletic director Tom Warden said it’s a little early to say how the Wolves could survive alongside an American Hockey League team, but he believes it’s possible. True North Sports and Entertainment, a partner in the consortium, expressed an interest in moving its AHL affiliate to Thunder Bay from St. John’s, N.L., as early as 2016-17, though more likely to start the 2017-18 season.

“I think the details need to be worked out as there is still some process to go here. But I think the important part is that there is some commitment and we’ll work together to deliver both hockey products to the community of Thunder Bay,” Warden said.

The Thunderwolves, who play in the competitive Ontario University Athletics West Division, have been the city’s main hockey attraction for the past 13 seasons. The club made it to CIS nationals on four occasions, twice as hosts, and fell one goal short of a national championship in 2006.

However, attendance has been steadily dropping the past couple of seasons. In their heyday, the Wolves would regularly draw 3,200 or more fans to most games. This season the team has struggled to hit the 2,500 mark on some nights.

“I’m not going to say (the AHL) is not competition, because they’re both hockey products. But I think when the two groups are working together to attain a common goal, that common goal being quality hockey in our community in both forms ... that you’ll see both survive and survive well.”

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he pushed potential partners to consider the Thunderwolves’ fate with any proposal they brought forward.

It was one of the reasons Green’s group got the green light from city council to move ahead, pending approval of arena construction.

“I met with Lakehead and they were very concerned that when we talked about an event centre, and I said I’m going to do my utmost to bring that team forward whichever way it goes. We couldn’t guarantee that,” Hobbs said. “I told them there were no guarantees, but today it was a beautiful announcement. It’s a win-win, for sure.”

Warden said the university would look to partner with the event centre management group in more ways than just hockey.

“I also think the new venue offers us an opportunity to bring all our programming to another level, whether it be basketball or volleyball or you name it,” Warden said. “We have the ability to host national championships in a lot of different sports.

“It just opens up so much, not only for our hockey program through that partnership and a new venue, but also for the university.”

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We've improved our comment system.
tbay87 says:
It's interesting that True North is involved here, they are actually a legitimate and competent management team and own an AHL franchise. I just don't see how an isolated city the size of Thunder Bay could support an AHL team. I believe Abbotsford is the closest and taxpayers pay millions to cover the team's losses.

That issue aside, Thunder Bay did support both the Flyers and Senators for a number of years, so there is some precedent for people supporting a two tiers of hockey, but it will certainly be challenging.

Worst-case scenario is AHL comes, Thunderwolves fold their hockey program, AHL leaves a few years later, and the nice new event center has no main tenant.
1/21/2014 4:31:34 PM
sky high says:
Imagine our new beautiful Events Centre hosting the University tournament final....full to the rafters with howling fans! Love that LOTR music as they skate out on the ice, will sound fantastic in PA in a few years
1/21/2014 4:42:38 PM
Chaos says:
Where is transparency?

Anyone of these partners pitching into the construction costs? Isn't that what partners mean: equal contribution / reward?
1/21/2014 5:09:26 PM
TBDR says:
guaranteed they'll invest in it... i'd put money on it
1/22/2014 8:06:50 AM
halfwaygorilla says:
I'm curious about the drop in opinion is the in between period contests,in between whistle advertising, and brutal music has been the EXACT same thing for too long. If you go to enough games you can almost tell exactly what the announcer is going to say. The product on the ice really hasn't changed - new faces but always a competitive team that has a chance to win any given night. Time to change up the extra stuff a bit.
1/21/2014 6:33:16 PM
sky high says:
If you were paying attention you'd have noticed that attendance began to drop right after the Wolves got steamrolled in the two playoff tournaments which we hosted.
1/22/2014 8:10:26 AM
Bluejaysfan says:
The Abbotsford are actually doing fairly well this year new the top of their AHL Conference. However,I don't believe Abbotsford is a perfect comparable for Thunder Bay for a couple of reasons.

1) Abbotsford is in the heart of Vancouver Canucks Country and the Abbotsford team is the affiliate for the Calgary Flames (bitter rivals of the Canucks).
2) Abbotsford is a one hour drive from Vancouver where you can go see an NHL game.

If anything the St. John's team we might acquire is a better comparable because of their isolation.

I think the Wolves will see a drop off in attendance as they become city's second tier team. However, many of their fans are loyal CIS supporters and students who will go no matter what. Plus the CIS product is more affordable to a certain demographic. Lastly, I think two teams can co-exist if the scheduling is done right. Ensure the AHL team and CIS teams schedules don't overlap too much (IE: AHL on a Thursday, CIS on a Friday, Sat) and it will be okay.
1/22/2014 9:19:22 AM
Johnny75 says:
Im looking forward to going to an AHL game a few nights and then a University game the others. Sign me up for season tickets!!
1/22/2014 10:01:27 AM
goodyou says:
What people seem to forget here is Thunder Bay is currently "supporting" two hockey teams as it is. Although in no way comparable to the AHL, Thunder Bay has been home to North Stars hockey as well as a number of other Jr. Teams over the years. Almost every game is "Dress like a seat night" even with an all local team. As with most events, businesses, etc in town, once something bigger and better comes along the whole city jumps ship.
1/22/2014 11:01:49 AM
Bluejaysfan says:
Fun Fact: Junior A hockey is terrible.
1/23/2014 9:37:25 AM
Today1 says:
Statistics/facts, show that all of these teams may draw 2% of the local and nearby population. A better than average will draw 3%. L.U. is right on that mark (better than average, actually). It would be wonderful to see TBay draw 6%, and I would be 100% optomistic. There is a question that I would like to ask, and get an answer from this consortium and Administrator and every Councillor. Tell me why that you think that Thunder Bay will be the exception to this rule?
1/22/2014 12:33:06 PM
lonewolf9 says:
So let's take an average week in the winter of 2017. The AHL team plays on a Tues. & Wed. and let's say they draw 4500 each night. Then on Fri & Sat, the Wolves play and hope to get at least 2,000, which by the way won't come close to paying their bills by today's standards. So that's 13,000 people attending hockey in one week with 4 games in 5 nights. There is no way I see that happening in this town. Maybe the first half of the first season because people may want to check out the new building and AHL team. But if you take in the history of this city and the fact that residents have never truly supported any of the teams over an extended period of time, this 2 hockey team plan is going to be a disaster.
1/26/2014 11:25:44 AM
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