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.”
Click here to report a typo or error
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Remember me next time.