Years of Transition

Prince Albert Communiplex Sign

Fresh off their official sanction from the CAHA and given the go-ahead to assume the crown of the top junior hockey league in Western Canada, the WHL consolidated its new status in 1971 by expanding into British Columbia for the first time. The BCHL teams in BC's two largest cities were both coaxed into moving leagues: the Victoria Cougars, playing at Victoria Memorial Arena, and the Vancouver Nats, playing out of Kerrisdale Arena. For the first time, the WHL would cover the entirety of Western Canada. In the meantime, the Estevan Bruins franchise was moved to New Westminster, keeping the Bruins name and playing out of Queen's Park Arena. A new replacement SJHL expansion team was created at that time as Estevan rejoined that league, a place they continue to occupy to this day.

In 1973 the Vancouver Nats, who'd spent time playing at Pacific Coliseum while trying and failing to compete with the NHL's Canucks, gave up and moved into the BC Interior, becoming the Kamloops Chiefs and playing at Kamloops Memorial Arena. Also in 1973, the Winnipeg Jets renamed themselves the Winnipeg Clubs, and the Brandon Wheat Kings moved into the Keystone Centre as a permanent home. The next year, 1974, saw the Swift Current Broncos move to Lethbridge, remaining the Broncos and playing out of the new Canada Games Sportsplex in that city.

The changes continued throughout the 1970's. The Edmonton Oil Kings found competing with the WHA's Oilers to be nearly impossible, and in 1976 they were gone, moving to Portland, Oregon as the Winterhawks became the CHL's first American team. The Winterhawks played at the historic Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Also in 1976 the Winnipeg Clubs renamed again, becoming the Monarchs. The following year saw three franchise moves, as the Calgary Centennials moved to Billings, Montana, becoming the Bighorns and playing at MetraPark Arena; the Kamloops Chiefs moved to Mercer Arena in Seattle, becoming the Seattle Breakers; and Calgary barely noticed losing their team as the Centennials were replaced immediately by the Winnipeg Monarchs, who renamed themselves the Calgary Wranglers, carrying on at the Corral.

In 1977, what was then the CHL's oldest arena was replaced as the Regina Pats moved a short walk away to the new Agridome. Exhibition Stadium remained open for another forty years before finally being demolished, but the Pats became the first CHL team to close an old permanent arena and move into a new one.

In 1978 the Flin Flon Bombers also downgraded back to the SJHL, much like the Estevan Bruins had done previously. The Bombers carried on in the Tier II league, and their WHL franchise was transferred to Edmonton, becoming the second iteration of the Oil Kings and again playing at the Edmonton Gardens. The next year they moved again, to Great Falls, Montana as the Americans, playing at the Four Seasons Arena. The team wouldn't even last a full season, ceasing operations midway through the 1979-80 season.

In 1980, the WHL expanded for the first time – as in, not just promoted a team from the provincial junior leagues, but actually granted an expansion team. The Warriors, taking their name from an old Winnipeg junior team, began play at Winnipeg Arena in 1980. It was the same season Winnipeg joined the NHL from the WHA, and my goodness, that was not a positive omen for the poor Warriors! Meanwhile, the Great Falls Americans were resurrected and moved to the Spokane Coliseum, where they became the Spokane Flyers. The Flyers would only last a year and a half in Washington, folding for good mid-season in December 1981.

The next franchise move was in 1981, where despite their success, the New Westminster Bruins departed the aging Queen's Park Arena for Kamloops, becoming the Junior Oilers and playing again at Kamloops Memorial Arena. Three seasons later the team was renamed the Kamloops Blazers.

In 1982 two new clubs joined the league – the Prince Albert Raiders were promoted from the SJHL, playing out of the Prince Albert Communiplex (today's Art Hauser Centre), where they have remained a model of stability for the past forty years. The other was in the Okanagan, where Kelowna was granted a team, the Wings, playing in Detroit Red Wings jerseys out of tiny Kelowna Memorial Arena. And finally, the Billings Bighorns relocated to Nanaimo, where they became the Islanders, playing one season out of Frank Crane Arena.

1983 saw the peripatetic Islanders moving again, this time to New Westminster, where the Bruins name was revived and the team played once again at Queen's Park Arena. In 1984 the pathetic Winnipeg Warriors moved west to the Moose Jaw Civic Centre, which had been without major junior hockey since 1968. The team kept the Warriors name in Moose Jaw, and the SJHL Canucks folded in response. In 1985 the Kelowna Wings moved to Spokane, becoming the Chiefs, and again playing out of the Coliseum. Meanwhile, the Seattle Breakers were renamed the Seattle Thunderbirds.

The moves continued in 1986. The Broncos had been successful in Lethbridge, but Swift Current had never lost hope of getting the WHL back, and in that year the team relocated back home to the Centennial Civic Centre. Lethbridge would not be long without a team, though, as the Calgary Wranglers moved south that year, becoming the Hurricanes and taking over the lease at the Sportsplex. 1988, finally, would be the last in a long line of revolving carousel moves, as the second incarnation of the New Westminster Bruins moved to Kennewick, Washington, becoming the Tri-City Americans and playing out of the Tri-Cities Coliseum.

By 1988 the WHL finally seemed to have stabilized as the “every year” franchise relocations and foldings appeared to have finally stopped. While teams would still move in the WHL of the 1990's and beyond, the league finally found stability and equilibrium by the end of the 1980's. In addition, Bill Hunter's hopes of the WHL being able to compete equally with the rest of the country finally came true, as the WHL won three Memorial Cups in the 1970's and followed that up by winning five of the ten Memorial Cups held in the 1980's. Their record would remain the same in the 90's and 2000's, winning 15 of 30 held between 1980 and 2009.

1966-71 | 1971-88 | 1988-Present

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Last Revised: December 5, 2021