Pa­cific ri­valry wel­comed AUS­TRIAN CLAIMS WORLD CUP LUGE EVENT

Canucks not wor­ried about new Seat­tle team steal­ing fans, rev­enue

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - TIM BOOTH

CAL­GARY — Aus­tria’s Wolf­gang Kindl won his sec­ond straight World Cup men’s luge gold in Canada with a vic­tory Fri­day in Cal­gary.

Kindl, also a win­ner in Whistler, B.C., last week, posted a two-run time of one minute 29.249 sec­onds on the WinS­port track that served as the slid­ing venue for the 1988 Win­ter Olympics in the city.

The reign­ing world cham­pion tops this sea­son’s World Cup stand­ings.

Reid Watts of Whistler, B.C., was the top Cana­dian in 15th.

SIT­TING high above the ice of Rogers Arena, Van­cou­ver Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning is re­call­ing fond mem­o­ries of his time play­ing ju­nior hockey for the Port­land Win­ter­hawks of the Western Hockey League and their trips up In­ter­state 5 to play at the old Mercer Arena against the Seat­tle Thun­der­birds. NHL fran­chise ear­lier this week has thrilled hockey fans who, for years, made their way north to Van­cou­ver to see the game played at its high­est level. But there’s an al­most equally ex­cited group just north of the 49th par­al­lel that can’t wait for 2021 when the Seat­tle fran­chise be­gins play.

“Van­cou­ver is al­ready a part­ner. They were the most en­thu­si­as­tic team in the league about this. They love the idea of this ri­valry,” Seat­tle team pres­i­dent Tod Lei­weke said. “I think for the two cities to con­nect like this, the two cities are 130 miles away, but now they’re go­ing to con­nect in a whole dif­fer­ent way and I think that one of the great things that is go­ing to come out of all this is a deep, deep vis­ceral con­nec­tion be­tween Van­cou­ver and Seat­tle and we’re go­ing to play some great games.”

Adding Seat­tle to the league helps the Canucks in var­i­ous ways, from mar­ket­ing to travel and in­ter­est in the game. The team is al­ready plan­ning ways it can sell Seat­tle’s ad­di­tion, even if it’s three years away.

Canucks COO Jeff Stipec noted that even as Van­cou­ver’s on-ice prod­uct is im­prov­ing around a core of young stars and re­ju­ve­nat­ing in­ter­est in the city af­ter a few down sea­sons, the fans flock­ing back to the games are seek­ing dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties. They want spe­cial events, like be­ing able to hop on a bus for a road trip to Seat­tle.

“Our sea­son-ticket mem­bers, what they’re look­ing for now are ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Stipec, who, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, is step­ping down from his po­si­tion but is cur­rently still in his role with the team. The team has not made any an­nounce­ment about Stipec’s fu­ture.

While it would seem the prox­im­ity of the two cities might cre­ate is­sues in com­pet­ing for dol­lars on the busi­ness side, it doesn’t ap­pear that will be the case largely be­cause of the bor­der. The bor­der cre­ates a nat­u­ral break be­tween the two teams, both in their at­tempts to gain mar­ket share, but also in seek­ing cor­po­rate dol­lars and the ac­qui­si­tion of tal­ent.

“It’s not that we just have some­body that’s 2½ hours away, we have that in­ter­na­tional bor­der be­tween us,” Stipec said.

“So that pro­tects us a lot from cor­po­rate part­ner­ships, broad­cast rights, a whole bunch of things. It’s not like a Pitts­burgh-Philadel­phia sit­u­a­tion. So it’s great that way, that we have our own pro­tected mar­kets in a sense in some of those key ar­eas.”

The Canucks have not ac­tively sought to pro­mote them­selves in the Seat­tle area, though play­off games have been broad­cast on Seat­tle sports ra­dio at times through the years. Still, hockey fans in the area have made the Canucks their team.

Alym Rayani lives just out­side Seat­tle and has gone in with friends on sea­son tick­ets for the Canucks for about a decade. Af­ter spend­ing part of his child­hood in Van­cou­ver, Rayani drove back for games af­ter set­tling in Seat­tle dur­ing the Canucks’ run as one of the Western Con­fer­ence’s elite teams ear­lier this decade.

But like oth­ers from the Seat­tle area who reg­u­larly at­tend Canucks games, they’re hockey fans more than Van­cou­ver fans. For Rayani, his loy­alty and his dol­lars will be­long to Seat­tle when it comes on board.

He’s No. 16 on the sea­son-ticket de­posit list.

Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning (right, with head coach Travis Green) re­mem­bers play­ing against the WHL’s Seat­tle Thun­der­birds.

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