After months of rumour and speculation, the Vancouver Giants have made it official — they are coming to Langley.
The Western Hockey League franchise made the announcement on Tuesday morning at the Langley Events Centre.
The agreement is for 10 years.
“It is a multi-year agreement. There is no subsidy or financial guarantee provided. It is more a partnership,” said Jason Winslade, the Township’s general manager of municipal administration and community services.
The major junior hockey club entered the WHL in 2001 and spent their first 15 years at the Pacific Coliseum, winning the 2006 WHL championship and the 2007 Memorial Cup.
But the team has struggled with attendance — and on the ice — the past few seasons.
They averaged 5,815 fans per game in 2014/15 but that number dropped to 5,169 this past season.
That was still good for seventh in the league, according to www.hockeydb.com.
Calgary led the league with 8,217 fans per game. The league average for the 22-team league was 4,535.
The LEC holds 5,276 but Vancouver Giants majority owner Ron Toigo said there is a possibility an additional 1,000 seats could be added.
“The bottom line is we haven’t been a very good team for the last number of years, which certainly played a big role in this,” Toigo said of the attendance woes.
The Giants played six games at the LEC in 2010 while the Pacific Coliseum was hosting events for the Vancouver Olympic Games. Toigo said it was not a smooth transition back then, citing traffic congestion and parking issues.
The team hosted a pre-season game against the Kelowna Rockets at the LEC in September — and while Toigo was not in attendance — Rockets owner Bruce Hamilton gave the venue a glowing review and suggested this was something Toigo should consider.
The Giants commissioned a professional polling company to conduct a survey of Metro Vancouver and Toigo said the numbers were staggering.
The poll showed that 80 per cent of the respondents said they would buy tickets to a game while 40 per cent said they would buy season tickets.
“This is where the growth is, this is where the young families are, this is where our demographic is,” he said.
“You can get to (Langley) from everywhere.”
And while the team is expected to save a substantial amount of money with the move to the Fraser Valley, that was not the only factor.
“It is all about the best environment for the Giants to succeed and helping our young guys to become the players they want to be,” Toigo said, adding that he figures the atmosphere created by a full house in a facility the size of the LEC is worth “at least four or five wins a year.”
Ticket prices are expected to remain the same, but the Giants will add a premium club seat option which would come with VIP parking.
Toigo stressed that both sides worked hard to try to stay at the Coliseum.
He did say that the Coliseum could host a game — likely the Teddy Bear Toss — each year and that they will look into submitting a bid to host the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championships, with the Coliseum.
The Giants players will remain billeted in Ladner — they have at training facility there — but the team will hold some practices at the LEC.
There had been speculation that the Giants would partner with the city of Surrey to build a new rink, but those plans have so far failed.
“I don’t know if it puts and end to those (rumours),” Toigo said. “Right now we are really focused on this. We put that on the back burner.”
“The focus is to try and make it work here.”
There are opt-out clauses to end the partnership early.
With the Giants taking over as the anchor tenant at the LEC, the junior A Langley Rivermen of the B.C. Hockey League, will move to the George Preston Recreation Centre.
A decision on the future of the junior B Langley Knights, who play in the Pacific Junior Hockey League, is expected in the coming weeks.
Roy Henderson, whose family owns the Rivermen, said the club had known this was a possibility for the past few months.
“I think it will be good for the Township of Langley. We didn’t certainly fill the building; I think the Giants could have a possibility of filling the building, with their marketing process and all,” he said.
The WHL and BCHL already co-exist in Victoria, Prince George and Kelowna.
“We have had a really good relationship with Langley (Township); they have treated us very well and have been very professional,” Henderson said.
“We have really appreciated the fans for the support they have given us and we hope they continue that.
“I think it will be good for Langley for the fact they will have two really good hockey clubs play in it.”
Winslade was also very complimentary of the Henderson family, thanking them for being great partners since they arrived in Langley in 2011.
With their home rink now secure, the Giants will shift their focus to improving the on-ice product.
The WHL holds the annual bantam draft tomorrow (Thursday) with the Giants holding the second overall pick.
The club also needs to find both a new head coach and general manager, which Toigo hopes to have by the end of the month.
The Giants finished 23-40-5-4 with 55 points, missing the post-season for a second straight season.
Gary Ahuja Langley Times file photo
Vancouver Giants defenceman Matt Barberis skates the puck up the ice during a preseason game at the Langley Events Centre back in September. The team announced on Tuesday that they will relocate to LEC from the Pacific Coliseum.