The Surrey Eagles will soon have a new rival close to home, it appears, after owners of the BC Hockey League’s West Kelowna Warriors announced this week they’re selling the team and eyeing North Delta as its new home.
Though Mark Cheyne, owner of the Warriors, the defending BCHL champions, confirmed to Black Press earlier this week only that he is in the midst of negotiating a move of his franchise to North Delta’s Sungod Arena – “I’ll know more in the next two weeks probably,” he said – Eagles’ president Chuck Westgard told Peace Arch News Wednesday afternoon that the sale and relocation of the team “is 99.9 per cent done” after the subject was discussed at the league’s board of governors’ meetings this week in Richmond.
Earlier this week, BCHL commissioner John Grisdale confirmed “there’s interest for a team to play in North Delta, either a relocation or an expansion team,” starting in the fall of 2017, but wouldn’t say whether a decision would be made this week.
Delta’s director of parks, recreation and culture, Ken Kuntz could not be reached by PAN press deadline Thursday morning, but told the Kelowna Daily Courier that representatives of the new owner had already signed a memorandum of agreement with Delta for the use of Sungod Arena.
The franchise’s new owner is based in China, but will be run by local representatives, Westgard said.
A move to North Delta would alter the league’s Mainland Division, of which the Eagles are a part, along with Coquitlam, Wenatchee, Langley and Prince George. The addition of a new team in the Metro Vancouver area would free up Prince George to move back into the Interior Division.
“Prince George in our division never made a lot of sense but they agreed to it three years ago to help balance (the divisions). It’ll be up to them whether or not they want to go back, but I imagine they will,” Westgard said.
On the geographical front, the Eagles would be the closest rivals to a North Delta squad, but Westgard said that there are no official territorial rights that would keep a BCHL franchise from moving near another.
That said, he thinks the move will be a good one for his club.
“It works both ways – maybe (it adds competition for fans), but for things like travel costs, it helps,” he said. “Every team in the Lower Mainland was supportive of a team in North Delta… for us, it means six more road games that are only 20 minutes down the road.”
Despite being defending league champions, West Kelowna has continued to struggle financially, Cheyne said.
“It’s about a chance to break even there (in North Delta) because we just can’t break even here, you know,” he said.
“It’s just a better move financially. With the (WHL) Rockets here and everything, it’s just a case of (people) don’t support it here as well as they need to, that’s for sure, even with a national championship, a really good team last year.”
The Sungod Arena has been the home of two Junior A teams in the past.
The Delta Suns operated in the 1978-79 season in what was then the B.C. Junior Hockey League (BCJHL), but folded after one season. The Suns went 6-56-0 (win-loss-tie).
The Abbotsford Flyers of the BCJHL relocated to North Delta for the 1985-86 season to play as the Delta Flyers. But despite posting a winning record in each of three seasons at the Sungod Arena, the team didn’t attract enough fan support and became the Powell River Paper Kings in the fall of 1988.
The team is now known as the Powell River Kings, a rival of the Eagles in the BCHL.
– with files from Tom Zillich and Rick Kupchuk