It will be a season of goodbyes for Ron Robison, as the long-time commissioner of the Western Hockey League will not renew his contact when it expires at the end of this season.
The upcoming season will mark Robison’s 24th and final season as the league’s commissioner. Robison, originally from Indian Head, Saskatchewan joined the league in the 2000-01 season as commissioner and Chief Executive Officer after nearly two decades with Hockey Canada.
“I’ve been at this for a long time.” Robison said in a media availability on Thursday morning. “This will be my 44th year coming up in the system, 20 years with Hockey Canada, 24 with the Western Hockey League. I think it’s time to step aside and let others have an opportunity to have the ability to run this great league. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have some great experiences, and work with some great people. We’re well positioned here for succession, and I think that it’s time. The right time is now. And the commitment I made to the league was to make sure post COVID that I remained here until we saw the recovery trending in the right direction.”
Robison always had an interest in hockey growing up in Indian Head and says he was fortunate to be involved with the sport for as long as he was.
“I was just hoping to make it to Regina to watch the Pats play from time to time when I was growing up. When your hockey career falls short from a playing standpoint, you look to see how you can stay involved. I really was interested in the business and administration side of the game and of course, keenly interested in the game itself always. I feel good about the fact that we’ve taken some pretty significant steps, but I never envisioned that I’d have a career this long or be fortunate enough to work with such a great league as the Western Hockey League.”
Two of the smallest markets in the league won championships prior to the COVID-19 pandemic with Swift Current winning in 2018 and the Prince Albert Raiders taking home the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2019. Robison says having smaller market teams prevail shows that the league gives equal opportunity.
“We pride ourselves in the Western Hockey League to always provide a level playing field. You want to make sure every team has an opportunity to win. Having Swift Current and Prince Albert win back-to-back championships really demonstrated that regardless of the size of the market and the community they represent, they’re more than capable of winning a WHL championship. And I think that’s a real validation of the system that we currently have in place. We pride ourselves on making sure we have a level playing field. But that was a really a strong indication that we are handling things in the right way.”
One of the main headlines surrounding the WHL this offseason has been the Winnipeg ICE sale and relocation to Wenatchee, Washington. The ICE have since been rebranded and are now known as the Wenatchee Wild.
The ICE relocated to Winnipeg from Cranbrook, B.C. for the 2019-2020 season and were playing their home games at Wayne Fleming Arena on the University of Manitoba campus which seated 1,600 spectators for WHL games.
The Wayne Fleming Arena was supposed to be a temporary solution for the ICE while a more permanent venue was built in Winnipeg. However, ICE ownership were unable to secure a new building for the club which lead to the sale of the franchise.
Robison says not having an adequate facility in Winnipeg made the WHL explore other opportunities.
“In our league, we have very clear requirements for facility standards and if those standards aren’t met, then we have to look at alternate locations. And in this particular case, we probably should have had a more firm commitment to the facility as far as construction underway and that type of thing, to make sure that we didn’t encounter the challenges we did. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get to a position where we had a facility of standard for Winnipeg to play in because we obviously value that market extremely high. But without that, the viability of that franchise in that market just didn’t make sense to us.”
The WHL has confirmed that the Swift Current Broncos will remain in the Central Division for the 2023-2024 season before realigning to the East Division for the 2024-2025 season. Swift Current previously played in the East Division prior to the Kootenay ICE relocation to Winnipeg.
The 2023 WHL Pre-Season Schedule and 2023-2024 Home Openers will be announced on Monday, Jun. 26. The entirety of the 2023-2024 WHL Schedule will be announced on Tuesday, Jun. 27.