There will be three junior hockey teams in Cold Lake next year.
The Western States Hockey League and the City of Cold Lake reached a multi-year agreement for a new Junior A team to play in the year-old recently added arena at the Cold Lake Energy Centre.
The Cold Lake Wings owned by the Western Provinces Hockey Association also announced via their Facebook page they will be returning next season in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League based in Ontario.
In 2018-19, the WSHL was partnered with the WPHA when the American league terminated the deal citing unpaid franchise fees during western Canadian expansion in 2018, said WSHL commissioner Ron White in June.
WPHA official, Derek Prue, said that was misinformation spread about the league.
The WSHL and WPHA are both pay-to-play Junior A leagues that are not sanctioned by Hockey Canada.
The new team joins the city’s junior ranks with the Cold Lake Ice Junior B team and the Wings, which Mayor Craig Copeland said is unique.
He said the City isn’t worried it will muddy the waters for hockey fans, nor will they get into the weeds of restricting or capping user-group opportunities.
“As a council, we don’t decide how many liquor stores or pizza places there are in the city,” said Copeland.
“Council’s position is that we have facilities in Cold Lake and we’re open to anyone playing in the facilities, and they just need to work out a user agreement to staff.”
The WPHA filed a lawsuit with the Town of Hinton to protect their contract and continue to operate the Hinton Wildcats team.
The Town responded that were working to have the case dismissed via their Facebook page saying the team did not pay the amounts required to use the Hinton Recreation Centre and there was no basis for legal action.
Prue denied these claims that the town or the WSHL wasn’t paid on June 14.
Copeland said the city was “fully paid” by the Wings during last hockey season.
He said the city worked hard to bring in an AJHL franchise and continues to explore user-group opportunities.
He thinks there are benefits for the taxpayers too besides more hockey.
“The upside to the city taxpayer is that you’re going to have even higher utilization of your ice rinks, which is going to help offset the deficit of upgrading hockey arenas in the city,” he said.
The Cold Lake WSHL team will play Canadian opponents formerly in the WPHA including the Meadow Lake Mustangs, Edson Aeros, and new franchises in Hinton and Barrhead, which returned to the WSHL after the partnership ended.
WSHL commissioner Ron White said the expansion is exciting news.
“We felt the City of Cold Lake originally bought into a WSHL league team and we want to keep it that way. So we pursued working with the city to get ice,” he said.
“It’s an exciting time for our league as we continue to expand into the US and Canada.”
White added the team has an ownership group in place.
Talks between the City and the WSHL began in 2017 when Copeland visited White and saw the WSHL showcase tournament in Las Vegas.
White said he doesn’t expect major issues with having a team ready to go by the start of the season because the WPHA will not oversee it, nor is he concerned that they will share a home building with the Cold Lake Wings.
The league is expected to announce a name soon.
The Cold Lake Wings announced via their Facebook page that they are returning to the Energy Centre next season and are “debt-free.”
“The team is debt free and ready to continue to make strides in the community. As anyone from Cold Lake knows, it was not uncommon to see the young men wearing Wings jerseys in the schools and volunteering on and off the ice,” the team announced on their Facebook page July 6.
The western Canadian locations in the WPHA have expanded to Slave Lake and Enoch Cree Nation and it is believed they’ll play under the GMHL banner.