Five seasons after their relocation from Winnipeg to St. John’s, the Manitoba Moose may be back skating on MTS Centre ice in 2015-16.
According to a report from the Winnipeg Free Press' Tim Campbell, the AHL’s Board of Governors are expected to meet on Thursday to vote on two potential transfers that could see the St. John’s IceCaps, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, relocate to Manitoba’s capital and the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, move to Newfoundland.
The latter move of Hamilton to St. John’s is reportedly less likely to happen, but the IceCaps leaving St. John’s for Winnipeg appears to be a strong possibility.
Last season it came out that True North Sports & Entertainment, the company which owns the Jets and IceCaps, was looking into possibly relocating the AHL franchise to Thunder Bay, Ont., to reduce the travel distance between the NHL and AHL clubs. True North Sports & Entertainment executive chairman Mark Chipman said at the time that talks about moving the team to Thunder Bay were in the preliminary stages, but admitted the organization was looking at moving the AHL team closer to Winnipeg.
“The travel has really proven to be very, very challenging,” Chipman told JetsTV in January 2014. “The distance – not just in moving players, but the ability for our management to get in with frequency and see these kids develop – has been challenging.”
Moving the team to Winnipeg would certainly make that distance a lot less challenging. Bringing the team back in to Winnipeg would open up the opportunity for the rebirth of the Manitoba Moose, the beloved AHL team that called the Winnipeg Arena home from 1996 to 2004 before moving to the MTS Centre in November 2004. The Moose headed to St. John’s in 2011-12 to become the IceCaps when the Jets returned to Winnipeg.
In April 2014, True North Sports & Entertainment granted the IceCaps a one-year extension to remain at St. John’s’ Mile One Centre. However, some believed at the time the extension was a matter of making sure AHL hockey would be played in St. John’s for 2015-16. With the potential move of the Hamilton Bulldogs to St. John’s for next season, the need for the AHL would be met.
Neither True North Sports & Entertainment nor the IceCaps management group has commented on the report. The Bulldogs, however, released a statement Saturday afternoon. While they did not deny the report, they did say Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer is committed to keeping hockey in Hamilton.
"We are aware of the reports but at this point nothing is official," the statement reads. "We don't want to add to the speculation with unconfirmed and inaccurate information. What we can tell you is that Michael Andlauer has been committed to our community, the fans and hockey in the city of Hamilton for over a decade and that will not change moving forward. We have no further comment at this time."
The Free Press article states Winnipeg and St. John’s are unlikely to be permanent options for either AHL club. The Jets will continue to look for a place for their AHL team to settle, for which Thunder Bay remains an option. Meanwhile, Campbell reports Montreal may place their AHL affiliate in Laval, Que., where they have been mentioned in connection with a proposed arena.
If approved, moving St. John’s to Winnipeg and Hamilton to St. John’s would make for the sixth and seventh relocations for the 2015-16 AHL campaign. The AHL has already announced an all-California Pacific Division for next season, which will include the San Diego Gulls, Bakersfield Condors, Ontario Reign and teams in San Jose and Stockton.