By Tyler Olsen, Chilliwack Times May 24, 2011
The British Columbia Hockey League is back in Chilliwack.
The BCHL board of governors has unanimously approved the sale of the Quesnel Millionaires and the franchise’s relocation to Chilliwack.
The new ownership group includes Chiefs Development Group principals Moray Keith and Jim Bond, along with Harvey Smyl, who will serve as the team’s coach and general manager.
“We’re thrilled,” Keith told the Times. “We’ve always been big fans of the BCHL. We wanted to have hockey in Chilliwack. We think the BCHL is a wonderful alternative. It’s respectful hockey.”
With the Langley Chiefs having been renamed the Rivermen, the franchise will likely be called the Chiefs. “Chiefs hockey represented great hockey in Chilliwack and the fan support we had behind the Chiefs was just wonderful,” he said. “Chiefs hockey was a fun time for Chilliwack. With Harvey it’s always been winning hockey and it’s also growing young men and . . . I think that’s something the community bought into big time with the old Chiefs teams.”
But Keith told the Times that, while he favours the old name, the franchise plans to ask fans for their two cents.
“We’re going to take a little look at that over the next week or two,” said Keith.
Jersey and logo decisions will also involve community input, Keith promised, but he stressed that any Chiefs logo must be respectful.
“I think we need to do something that’s very respectful when we’re doing the Chiefs,” he said. “I think we’ve had some great jerseys in the past and we’ve also had some that were a little bit comical, and I think we’ll stay away from those and head to just a real classy jersey.”
As for a mascot, Keith doesn’t rule out the return of an old standby.
“I always thought the name Chief Wannawin is pretty cool,” he said, when asked specifically about the former Chiefs standard-bearer.
CDG owns and operates Prospera Centre and owned a minority share of the now-departed Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League.
Keith doesn’t think it will be difficult to attract fans to watch a BCHL team in an arena which, with a seating capacity of around 5,000, will be one of the largest buildings in the league.
“What we’re finding is tremendous support from the folks in the community who are anxious to have the BCHL back in town.”
He pointed out that the Chiefs averaged more than 3,000 fans their first year in Prospera Centre, before the team left for Langley.
“We think we’ve got an opportunity to drive that,” he told the Times. “Number one, we’ve got a more affordable ticket. We’re going to be making it very approachable and very easy for families to attend. We think that hockey in Chilliwack should be a family outing. It should be something you want to take your kids to and there will be zero-tolerance for misbehaviour in the stands.”
He said there are no plans to tarp over sections of seats. The franchise also plans to replace the videoboard that departed with the Bruins.
“We believe we have to step it up a bit,” said Keith. “There’s no doubt that the WHL was a higher-profile league and we need to make sure we’re doing the same thing for the BCHL and we will.”
He said the lower costs associated with operating a BCHL team will make it easier for the franchise to afford to bring a top-notch experience to fans.
“Our intention is to fill the building. There’s no ifs ands or buts.”
Keith clearly believes that Smyl—who coached the Langley Chiefs last year but who still lives in Chilliwack—will be a vital part of the on- and off-ice success of the team.
The Millionaires won just 13 games last year and were swiftly dispatched in four games in the playoffs. With the BCHL ushering in a new playoff format that will see only four teams from each division qualify for the post-season, Chilliwack will be in tough. But Keith has confidence in Smyl’s ability to work wonders with young players and promote an entertaining style of play.
“Harvey seems to lose five or six games at the start of the year, by Christmas time he’s playing .500 hockey, and by the time he hits the end of the year, he’s in the second round of the playoffs,” said Keith. “What fans, I believe, want is guys who go out every shift and give it everything they’ve got and we can promise we’re going to have exciting offensive hockey.
“Yeah, it’ll take a few minutes to get a team sorted around but Harvey’s used to rebuilding teams because we’ve always incentivized Harvey based on sending . . . young men [to college] rather than holding them from 16 to 20 on the team.”
The Western Hockey League had previously expressed an interest in returning to Chilliwack, but Keith said he and his partners are fully committed to the BCHL.
“Judging by the way we were treated by the WHL, we’re not very anxious to be involved with those folks again,” he said.
Keith says the franchise has put in place a 10-year lease for the Prospera Centre.
He also emphasized the need for community involvement in the team and hopes to recruit an army of volunteer ushers, ticket-takers, billeters and security personnel.
“We’re going to look for a lot of people to be involved,” said Keith. “We believe that rather than commercializing some of those positions, we should be trying to look for people who want to be involved in the community and involve some of the clubs and also some of the students.”
He said the team plans to begin hiring within two weeks, with a business manager and marketer at the top of the list.
Chilliwack will play in the BCHL’s Interior Conference next year. Realignment will take place the following, according to the league.
BC Hockey must still rubber-stamp the move, but that approval is expected at a conference call scheduled for June 7. The new Chilliwack owners, meanwhile, are planning a summer of announcements tied to the new team and are begging for input from local hockey fans and residents.
“We firmly believe the team belongs to the community,” said Keith. “We get to be caretakers of the team.”