IceCaps leaving Newfoundland for Thunder Bay

It looks like the Winnipeg Jets AHL farm team will be leaving St. John's, N.L., and moving to Thunder Bay, Ont., after a deal was announced to build a new $106-million ``event centre'' in the Lake Superior community. (Paul Daly/CP)

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets are exploring a move of their AHL farm team from St. John’s, N.L., to Thunder Bay, Ont., after a deal was announced to build a new $106-million "event centre" in the Lake Superior community.

But Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns both the Jets and AHL franchise, suggested Tuesday it wasn’t quite yet a done deal yet.

"This is a very preliminary step," he said in a video statement on the team’s website. "It’s something that we’re going to explore.

"There’s a lot of work to be done for it to become a reality."

But former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams, president of the St. John’s IceCaps, told radio station VOCM in St. John’s on Tuesday he will be looking for another team to bring to the island.

"We will be actively seeking another affiliation and another franchise," he said while suggesting he’d like to see the IceCaps remain until 2017 if that could be arranged, two years past the end of the current deal.

Williams said it wasn’t a surprise but he learned of the latest decision only the night before. The franchise is owned by True North Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Winnipeg Jets.

"We’ve been informed of this process over the last six months as well so it didn’t blindside us," Williams said later, adding he was also pleased Chipman was offering to help St. John’s land another farm team, but one attached to an eastern NHL cub.

"The difference is now that Winnipeg has moved to the Western Conference," he said of the team’s desire to relocate the team.

Chipman pointed to travel issues as the reason to consider the move.

"It’s just simply geography, nothing more than that," he said while stressing it’s not guaranteed to happen.

"It remains to be seen whether this will occur or not. We’re hopeful that it will."

The team had regular sellouts in St. John’s, although travel was often difficult for visiting teams and even for Jets executives who wanted to see how players were developing, he said.

Fans were disappointed at the decision, which could see the team leave at the end of next season when the current deal runs out.

"While I hope fans continue to support the team on the ice, this is going to kill merchandise sales and be a big problem for season ticket sales," Rod Zdebiak said on the team’s Facebook page.

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