After 37 years of involvement with junior B hockey, Ray Stonehouse has the top job, as president of the Pacific Junior Hockey League.
Stonehouse is well known locally as the man who owned the Ridge Meadows Flames for 25 years, before selling the team in 2005.
“I just felt it was time,” he said. “Time to pass the torch.”
“Unknown to me, I was going to have a major stroke that almost took my life.”
He lives in Coquitlam now, and deals with partial paralysis, but there is a table reserved for him in the pub above Cam Neely Arena.
He virtually never misses a game.
The league started in 1966, and Stonehouse got involved in 1980.
His teams were successful, taking gold, silver and bronze at the Keystone Cup Western Canadian Championships. Then there were three seasons when his teams won the league, but the league was boycotting the provincials. Who knows how far they might have gone.
“We were all dressed up with no place to go,” he said.
He loves the league, and says it’s an easy sell to talented young hockey players for a lot of reasons. It is half the price or less, compared with other elite programs like the Major Midget League or the hockey academies which are becoming increasingly popular.
Most junior B teams charge $4,000 to $5,000 per season, he said.
“It’s a great development league, and that’s our primary objective,” he said, noting the team has an impressive record of sending kids on to junior A, college scholarships, and even the NHL.
The likes of Edmonton Oiler power forward Milan Lucic, Chicago Blackhawks defensive stalwart Brent Seabrook and Maple Ridge’s own Andrew Ladd, now with the New York Islanders, all had stops in the Lower Mainland’s junior B circuit.
And the travel is unbelievable, compared to the 13-hour bus rides across the province that other leagues suffer. Most players are 30 minutes away from the rink on game night, and the longest commute is Mission to Richmond.
“We are the envy of junior hockey,” he said.
One of his goals this season is expansion, and the team is looking at two new franchises. There is a group in White Rock that has a promising plan, and options for other sites would include Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler. He would like to have six team sin each conference by the 2017-2018 season.
Andrew Ileander was part of a group of five investors that bought The Flames from Stonehouse.
“He really cared about the team, and who he was selling it to,” he recalled.
Stonehouse didn’t want the team moved, and he didn’t want the name changed.
To this day, even though the team has redesigned the team logo, they keep the original Flames crest as a shoulder patch, as a nod to the teams of the past.
Ileander says Stonehouse has always been an effective vice-president of the league.
“He’s very prepared, and the league is going in the right direction because of guys like Ray.”
He is what hockey people like Don Cherry would call “a beauty.”
“He’s very passionate about hockey, and says what’s on his mind, and doesn’t beat around the bush.”