Nathan Lieuwen, the majority owner and president of the Cranbrook Bucks, at the podium with Scott Niedermayer and BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb in the background. Trevor Crawley photo.

Cranbrook Bucks expansion franchise joins BCHL

Hockey will be back in Cranbrook for the 2020-21 season after the departure of the WHL last March

The Cranbrook Bucks is the newest BCHL franchise.

In front of a crowd of fans and dignitaries at Western Financial Place, Nathan Lieuwen — the majority owner and president — announced the newest team to compete in the provincial Jr. A league, alongside BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb and Cranbrook mayor Lee Pratt.

WATCH:

“I’m very excited and proud to bring you this announcement today. It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of long days. To get to this point is very special,” Lieuwen said. “…We look forward to working with our community and the surrounding areas in building lasting relationships and partnerships. We’re excited to be part of the Cranbrook scenery and the hockey behind it.”

The Bucks will compete in the 2020-21 BCHL season

Lieuwen, a WHL alumni with the former Kootenay Ice, is joined by fellow alum Adam Cracknell in the ownership structure, along with Scott Niedermayer, a Hall of Fame NHL defenceman who was raised in Cranbrook. Others with an ownership stake include Craig Shostak and Steve King, who are also owners of the Cardiff Devils, a hockey frachise in the British Elite Ice Hockey League.

Niedermayer credited Lieuwen’s passion and excitement for getting a hockey team in Cranbrook as a reason for getting involved with the effort.

“Especially seeing his passion and how excited he was about trying to do this made it very, very easy for me to say yes,” said Niedermayer.

Both King and Shostak have a hockey background and work in business based out of Calgary. Cracknell is continuing his professional hockey career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with the Kunlun Red Star in China.

Hebb said Lieuwen reached out to him roughly a year ago to explore the possibility of a franchise in Cranbrook.

“About a year ago, I was getting phone calls and emails from some young guy who thought he could bring a team to your city and his name was Nathan Lieuwen,” said Hebb. “We talked a lot and back and forth and we handed him hoops and he jumped through them and we handed him another and he jumped through it.

“Here we are today with a situation that brings the 18th BC Hockey League team to Cranbrook.”

Hebb noted four pillars with the league— speed and skill, player safety, education, and community.

“Having driven around Cranbrook are for the last couple of days, I think this is a community that is going to do the BC Hockey League proud,” Hebb said.

A BCHL franchise coming to Cranbrook carries a $1.2 million expansion fee.

Hebb also hinted at a league realignment, noting that franchise governors have been in ongoing discussions.

“We’re probably going to have an interior division that Cranbrook fits into,” Hebb said. “We may stay with three divisions: Interior, Lower Mainland and Island. But I would also ask our competition committee to come back with some ideas where maybe there are four divisions, some six-team divisions, some four-team divisions.

“But that’s going to be decided by the hockey minds and that will be announced with in the next three months.”

Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt said the BCHL is an exciting brand of hockey that features high quality players who have gone on to NHL careers.

“We considered a lot of options that would fit into Western Financial Place including the number of fans, fan experience, and the long term sustainability of the franchise,” said Pratt. “These discussions were not taken lightly, and for hockey fans in Cranbrook and the surrounding area, this will be exciting for them to watch for many years to come.”

In an interview following the announcement, Pratt noted that there was interest from other groups working to bring a hockey team to Cranbrook, but noted Lieuwen’s BCHL option was the best fit.

“When we put out the RFP for interest, he was the only one that came back with a league proposal and a business proposal that made sense so from there, then it started to go deeper into the mechanics of it.”

The city was left reeling after a messy break-up with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice last January. After 21 years in Cranbrook, new ownership relocated the team to Winnipeg and still have an outstanding lease agreement valid until 2023.

Pratt confirmed the city remains in negotiations with the Ice over the agreement.

He also denied that the water leakage issues around the arena barrel roof would hinder hockey operations next season— a fix that is estimated to cost $3 million as part of an overall estimated $5.6 million roofing project for the entirety of Western Financial Place.

While there is no hockey in the city this season, the KIJHL rules the roost, with franchises in Creston, Kimberley, Fernie and Invermere.

KIJHL president Larry Martel says he is happy to see hockey back in Cranbrook and that the league has a good partnership with the BCHL.

“The KIJHL has a strong developmental hockey model and we promote many players from the KIJHL to the BCHL, AJHL, SJHL and MJHL Jr A leagues,” Martel said. “Having a team this close by for East Kootenay teams could turn out to be another recruiting tool. We have several teams located very close to BCHL franchises and its always been a very positive relationship between the teams and great for the hockey player and local fans.”



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Lift for Wills’ community fundraiser to support Penticton boy fighting cancer

This Sunday, stop by World Gym Penticton for by-donation drop-in classes, a silent auction, more.

Petition to install safety barriers on Hwy 97 garners over 500 supporters

Yesterday a fatal collision on Hwy 97 claimed the life of one individual

Oliver Health Centre celebrates expansion of ER

Minister of Health was in Oliver for the official opening of the improved emergency department

ALERT and Penticton pilot team up to talk about Australian wildfires

Mike Bridson has been fighting the fires in Australia, and returns to help more later this month

Harlem Globetrotters’ Hops Pearce is pumped to bring show to Penticton

Less than two weeks to get your tickets to see Globetrotters’ high-flying stunts

Canada to bolster screening of central China passengers for virus at 3 airports

Additional measures will include messaging on arrivals screens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

B.C. town spends $14.14 per resident for snow removal in one month

Costs of snow removal to the Town of Princeton skyrocketed in December.… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Photo reminds Salmon Arm resident of connection to former drama teacher Justin Trudeau

Prime minister remembered as being as a funny, larger-than-life person

Province says it is monitoring AIM’s road maintenance

The provincial transportation ministry is working closely with new road contractor AIM,… Continue reading

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

‘It’s still early’: Flu rates down so far this year at Interior Health

At Kelowna General Hosptial, there have been about 50 confirmed cases

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Most Read