Kootenay Ice players salute the crowd after a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels in its last-ever game in Cranbrook. Trevor Crawley photo.

Kootenay Ice players salute the crowd after a 5-4 win over the Red Deer Rebels in its last-ever game in Cranbrook. Trevor Crawley photo.

Kootenay Ice, WHL file response to Cranbrook lawsuit over alleged breach of contract

A former major-junior hockey team based in Cranbrook has filed a response denying claims made in a legal dispute initiated by the city over an alleged breach of contract when the franchise relocated to Manitoba three years ago.

A year after the city initiated a lawsuit seeking relief in an alleged breach of contract in the relocation of the Kootenay Ice from Cranbrook to Winnipeg, a response was filed last month denying the city’s arguments and presenting a different version of facts.

The city’s lawsuit, which names the Kootenay Ice, Winnipeg Ice, a numbered Manitoba company and the Western Hockey League as defendants, was filed in December 2020 and seeks lost income and damages following the relocation of the WHL franchise.

The alleged breach of contract relates to the licence agreement between the Kootenay Ice and the City of Cranbrook — a deal carrying a 15-year term beginning on July 1, 2008 and running until June 30, 2023 at Western Financial Place — as well as the failure to uphold the agreement by new ownership that purchased the club in 2017.

However, in response to the city’s lawsuit, the defendants allege that it was the city that breached the contract by terminating the deal outside of the process laid out within the agreement. The Kootenay Ice allege that the contract was terminated by the city after the club requested the city consent to a viable sub-lease or assignment of the licence agreement in May 2019 — four months after the WHL announced the franchise relocation to Winnipeg.

The defendants response also alleges that the city disposed of goods and furnishings belonging to the defendants following the termination of the license agreement.

The response notes that the WHL itself was never party to a contractual agreement with the city, denies any liability for the alleged breach of contract, and says the city’s lawsuit failed to plead a cause of action against it.

Additionally, the response also notes the defendants also plead and rely on sections within the licence agreement that contain force majeure provisions — factors that are out of the control of all involved parties.

As part of the initial notice of civil claim, the city reported that annual income generated under the terms of the licence agreement was approximately $178,333.

Specific relief sought by the city includes general damages, loss of income for the four years remaining on the term, special damages relating to replacement tenant expenses, one time expenses of approximately $15,000, pre-judgment interest on damages, and costs.

The licence agreement had a sliding scale of fees to be paid by the club to the city, a fee that correlated with increased or decreased annual attendance. Other revenues, in some cases shared by the parties, also came from a percentage of ticket sales, advertising and parking.

The Kootenay Ice relocated to Cranbrook from Edmonton in 1998, winning three WHL titles and capturing a Memorial Cup — Canada’s top major-junior hockey championship in 2002 — before moving to Winnipeg in at the end of the 2019 season.

The franchise also produced a number of players who went on to the NHL and other professional leagues, including Mike Comrie, Jarret Stoll, Adam Cracknell, Nigel Dawes, Brayden McNabb, Sam Reinhart, and Peyton Krebs.