It’s not official just yet, but things are lining up for Chilliwack to get a brand new junior B hockey team.
Clayton Robinson and two partners have the finances and the venue for a squad that would play in the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
The league’s board of governors voted down the new entry last weekend after disagreeing over the franchise fee.
Robinson was told initially told to offer $400,000 and the league’s fee is actually $500,000.
But his group has decided to go ahead with the higher price tag, believing the business model will make it a success.
“Verbally, they’ve accepted our proposal and we just have to have one more meeting with the governors,” Robinson said. “We’ll meet Monday to go over the business plan, but it shouldn’t be an issue. For now, I can say the rumours are true and I’m feeling confident.
“We feel Chilliwack is a fast growing community that will support us well.”
There have been whispers for a while about a team based out of the new ice sheet at the Sardis Sports Complex.
Robinson wanted a team in Chilliwack two years ago, but he couldn’t find a suitable venue. Instead, he purchased the Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League from longtime owners Phil and Brenda Levesque.
“It was great because they kind of mentored me for the first year and I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel a whole lot,” he noted. “There’s a lot involved in running a hockey team. Way more than you’d think. The first year I sat back and ran the business side of things, and in the second year I got involved in hockey ops, taking on the head coach and GM role.”
The 36 year old found it taxing because he didn’t have much help, and he didn’t have the same network of contacts in Nanaimo that he’ll have in Chilliwack.
“I grew up here and know a lot of people and I have a couple great partners who are going to be involved,” he said. “My job will mostly be the hockey ops while they take care of the sponsorship and advertising side, but I have a big stake in this so I’ll probably be involved in everything.”
Henry Kingma is one of the partners. He is the owner of Royal Interiors.
Chilliwack born-and-raised Curtis Toop was a partner in Nanaimo and will reprise that role in Chilliwack.
Robinson confirms he will be the head coach and GM with the new team, if it is approved, at least in year one.
He has an extensive background coaching in the Chilliwack Minor Hockey system, including taking CMHA’s midget Bruins to the provincial championship tournament in 2017, and a huge part of his belief that Chilliwack will support a junior B team comes from his plan to populate the roster with local players.
Robinson plans to start with a core group from his midget teams and build from there.
“There are a lot of kids playing minor hockey who aren’t quite good enough to play junior A hockey, but they want to keep playing. So where do they go?” he asked. “Why not home? Right now they’re going to Abbotsford, Mission, Aldergrove, Revelstoke and all over the place. If you count up the Chilliwack kids who are in junior B and not playing here, there’s got to be at least 30 in all the leagues.”
A look at the Abby Pilots roster Tuesday found nine of the 21 players hailing from Chilliwack, with two more listed as affiliate players at abbotsfordpilots.com/pilots/roster.
“They own those players, so it’s not like we could just go and take them, but I think there’s at least 10 good players who aren’t playing hockey right now who played major midget and quit, and they’ll play in Chilliwack if we have a team,” Robinson said. “There’s a bunch of kids from Chilliwack Minor Hockey this year who will make the team and we’ll do some out-of-town recruiting as well.
“We’ll be looking to have maybe seven out-of-town players and the rest will be local. That’s the model we used in Nanaimo as well where we were a super local team, and it’s been really successful.”
Robinson’s business plan will budget for 200-250 fans a game.
He’ll be sharing a market with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, but doesn’t believe the teams will clash.
“We have totally different business models and I think we’re going after a totally different market than they are with a focus on a younger, teenaged crowd,” Robinson said. “That’s part of the reason we wanted to be on the Sardis side of town too, with so many schools on that side and many of our players living there.
“Hockey wise, the players we’re going after aren’t the players the Chiefs are going after, but we want to work with them, and other junior teams too if possible. Our main goal will be to move kids on to junior A, and the more we can move on to that next level, the better it looks for our program and the easier it will be to recruit.”
THe PJHL is currently a 12 team league split into two conferences that includes the Langley Trappers, Aldergrove Kodiaks, Ridge Meadows Flames, Mission City Outlaws, Abbotsford Pilots, Surrey Knights in the Harold Brittain conference and the North Vancouver Wolf Pack, Richmond Sockeyes, Grandview Steelers, White Rock Whalers, Delta Ice Hawks and Port Moody Panthers in the Tom Shaw conference.