When Winnipeg hockey fans heard that a Western Hockey League (WHL) team was coming back to the city, they were ecstatic. With two professional franchises, and a host of junior teams, a hockey town was growing its love for the game even more.
This team, the Winnipeg Ice, is off to an impressive first year in Winnipeg as it sits sixth overall in the WHL’s Eastern conference with a 34-24-1 record. The team clinched a playoff spot this past weekend despite being a relatively young group. In what people were calling a rebuilding year for the team, the season has quickly turned into one filled with hope for a playoff run.
With the additions of defenceman Dawson Barteaux and forward Jackson Leppard, as well as the late return of injured captain Peyton Krebs, the Ice is looking strong to end the season.
The team is built for now and the future.
Building through the draft and with minor trades is something the team did well, as it has five first and second overall picks on the roster. Carson Lambos, Conor Geekie, Matthew Savoie, Connor McClennon and Krebs are a few of the players who will factor into a promising future for the team.
But none of this — the building, the success and the relocation from British Columbia to Winnipeg — could have happened without team president and general manager Matt Cockell.
Cockell, a businessman, previously worked for True North Sports and Entertainment as vice-president of corporate partnerships.
Prior to this, he obtained his marketing and small business finance degree from the University of Manitoba in 2004.
His love of hockey and business crossed paths when 50 Below Sports and Entertainment — owners of the Ice — gave him the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I just kept pursuing things that I was passionate about,” Cockell said.
“At some point I was lucky enough where they kind of converged and both sets of experience were something I was able to apply.
“I have a great opportunity here with what we’re doing with 50 Below and with the Winnipeg Ice […] excited about what we’re doing, building a fanbase and introducing people to WHL hockey.”
Business is all about revenue, and revenue comes from the fans.
Although they play in a small rink — U of M’s Wayne Fleming Arena — the Ice have been getting a passionate fan base out to the games, something Cockell and his staff expected from Winnipeg.
“We were very confident once people had the opportunity to participate and see what WHL hockey was all about and what the game and fan experience was […] but it’s been a great environment,” Cockell said.
“We’ve been fortunate in terms of the amount of people that have come out and the amount of people that have enjoyed it […] I think, [it] might be fair to say [we are] ahead of where we thought we would be at this time, and that’s a good thing and we want to keep working at it.”
Although fan engagement has been good, the Ice still has a new arena that Cockell and 50 Below hope will boost the experience of a WHL game.
Following the 2020-21 season the Ice is slated to leave Wayne Fleming Arena for its permanent home on McGillivray Blvd.
“There are some [lessons] that will be applied to our new long-term home from the first year which is great,” Cockell said.
“We’re always careful to make sure that all the details are 100 per cent confirmed […] and once we’re ready to make an announcement to […] confirm what things will look like moving forward we will be excited to do that.”
Being introduced next year into the fan experience for the Ice is a new student full-access pass. This pass will be available for the 2020-21 season at a $275 charge, which comes out to only $9 per game.