BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Manitoba Junior Hockey League commissioner Kim Davis shakes hands with Virden Hockey Ventures governor Bob Berry, right, during Wednesday’s announcement of the purchase of the Winnipeg Saints at the Virden and Area Recreation Facility.
VIRDEN — The town of Virden now has its own Junior A hockey team to rally behind.
After weeks of speculation, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League officially announced Wednesday that the Winnipeg Saints have been purchased by Virden Hockey Ventures Inc., and will relocate to southwestern Manitoba for the upcoming 2012-13 season. A purchase price for the franchise was not released.
"It is a very exciting time for us," said Dale Lewis, president of Virden Hockey Ventures. "We are a very committed group. This is not a three- or four-year venture … this is a long-term commitment to the communities in the area."
MJHL commissioner Kim Davis attended the official announcement at the new Virden and Area Recreation Facility.
"On behalf of the board of governors of the league, I want to welcome the community of Virden and the surrounding region to the MJHL," Davis said. "This … brings the MJHL to all parts of the province."
The team’s new home is the $18-million, 1,200-seat Virden and Area Recreation Facility, which opened in June 2011.
Troy Leslie, the former coach of the Southwest Midget AAA Cougars, has been named the team’s new head coach. Leslie coached the Midget AAA team for eight years, was head coach of Team Manitoba at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, and also served as an assistant coach of Team Western in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2006.
Bob Berry, Virden Hockey Ventures governor, said they are inheriting a "storied franchise" with an impressive history. The Winnipeg Saints, who advanced all the way to this year’s MJHL championship series before falling to the Portage Terriers, date back to 1967.
"It is our goal as an ownership group and as an organization to carry on this tradition," Berry said.
"It will be our intention to be the caretaker of this franchise, and to operate it to the highest degree of integrity, honesty and success … while at the same time providing our young hockey players an excellent environment to develop their skills and play the game they love."
Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell said the new team will create economic spinoffs for the community.
"It’s just another indicator of the economic growth of Westman," McConnell said.
"And as far as I’m concerned, our local economy will get better, too. The people that come to the games … we’re happy to have them come to town, shop, go to restaurants and … just come to our facility. We love showing off this building."
The team will consist of 20-22 players between the ages of 16 and 20, with the core of next year’s team likely made up of returning members of the Saints.
Many will be billeted in the community, and some will attend Virden Collegiate Institute.
"I think it adds a lot of energy and spirit to the community," said Barry Pitz, superintendent of Fort La Bosse School Division.
"For a lot of the local kids in the area and the region, and more specifically in Virden, it’s something to aspire to. These young gentlemen that are going to be playing here are going to be role models for the younger kids."
The team’s new name is yet to be determined.
"We want a name that’s going to suit not only Virden, but the surrounding community as well," Lewis said.
"And that’s what we want to stress is that even though this team is based out of Virden, Manitoba, this is by all accounts going to be a southwestern Manitoba team."
In MJHL records released last fall, the Winnipeg Saints had the lowest average per game attendance of any team in the league.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 26, 2012